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School choice shouldn't just be for the rich

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Three years ago, when preparing to move to the Washington, D.C., area with five school-age kids, public school quality had to top our list of priorities for buying a home. We were fortunate as a two-income couple to be able to consider many options, even in the overpriced metro suburbs, but not so comfortable as to afford private school tuition. We had to make sure our local public schools would be a good fit.

Naturally, houses in the best school districts cost more — a lot more — than those with worse ratings. We figured that compared with dozens of years of private schooling, the extra mortgage debt was worth it, but it was a big financial sacrifice.

Now, three years later, county officials are debating rewriting school boundaries, so that our house would no longer qualify for Virginia’s Langley High School, one of the top rated high schools in the state. Unsurprisingly, this created tremendous debate, pitting people in the area who would be newly districted into Langley, who would enjoy access to better education and improved home values, against those of us who would be on the losing end on both measures.

Those outside the affected area have little directly at stake, but it does highlight dysfunctional aspects of America’s public education system. Surely we can do better.

Today, where a child goes to school is mostly a function of where he or she lives. Localities tell parents which public school their children get to go to, based on where they reside.

It many ways, this makes sense: We don’t want kids making long commutes to a distant school. Ideally, local, neighborhood schools create a positive sense of community and encourage local engagement.

College craziness comes at a cost: Our flawed college system takes toll on families........