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Protected the exclusivity of suburban public schools

For the last half-century, just about every education reform -- from desegregation to school choice -- has taken care to keep city and suburban schools and students separate. Buses for school desegregation rarely crossed the urban-suburban boundary, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 1974, which meant that suburban students would not have to participate in court-ordered desegregation of city schools.

Most modern school choice plans have followed the same pattern by offering students choices among schools within the same school district. A perfect example is the No Child Left Behind Act, which allows kids in "failing" schools to choose another school, as long as it is within the same district.

What these reforms have in common is that they have protected the exclusivity of suburban public schools and have ensured that city students would stay put in city schools.

Open enrollment could shake up the education system.

Mr. Romney's proposal, if put in place, could change that. Most directly, and perhaps most dramatically, Mr. Romney's proposal would force -- yes, force -- suburban districts to accept city students, a step that the Supreme Court refused to take back in 1974. As Mr. Romney said in a white paper also released last week, he would require states to "adopt open-enrollment policies that permit eligible students to attend public schools outside of their school district."

In doing so, Mr. Romney's proposal would target the real source of educational inequality in this country: school district boundaries, which wall off good school systems from failing ones. The grossest inequalities in educational opportunity today exist between school districts, not inside them.


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