How many of us remember the scenes of young East Germans risking their lives to escape under, over or around the Berlin Wall? Happily, those memories are fading since the wall came down in 1989. Unhappily, young people still have to take risks to escape another repressive system — only these scenes are taking place right here in America.
In city after city, public school districts are reacting to the growing number of students trying to get a better education. As the newspaper Education Week recently reported, “Resurrecting a practice from the days when outlaws roamed the Wild West, a New Jersey school district is using ‘bounty hunters’ to track down students illegitimately attending its schools.” The going rate to tipsters is now $100 for every out-of-district student uncovered.
Often, these are inner-city youth who use false addresses to attend what they see as better schools in affluent suburban districts. One suburban Chicago district now uses surveillance cameras at the train station to identify students arriving from inner Chicago neighborhoods. The principal thinks he’ll have to get even more aggressive in removing non-district students.
Many educrats oppose school choice plans like the voucher system because they believe poor families won’t know what schools are best for their children. How paternalistic! And how sad that poor students who are demonstrating their desire for a good education are being tracked down like outlaws.
Many East Germans died escaping to freedom. Let’s hope the American Berlin Wall falls soon so every student can choose where to get the best education.
This commentary was recorded and broadcast in July, 1992 on KBNP radio in Portland, Oregon by talk show host Peter Weissbach. It was written by Cascade Policy Institute founder Steve Buckstein.