Why parents in Cincinnati camp out for 16 days to get a kindergarten spot

Scarce kindergarten places at magnet schools like the Fairview-Clifton German Language School are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis to parents who camp out for weeks, clearing their tents every morning so the kids won't be disturbed by the tent-city on the school's lawn.

Gerard Sychay does an excellent job of explaining the absurdity of the whole process, but glosses very quickly over the whys and wherefores of queuing up for 16 days to get your kid into the right kind of school. For example, the majority of kids in his neighborhood school "received free & reduced lunch, and many shuffled in and out of the district" -- that is to say, they're poor, and will likely command the lion's share of the teachers' attention to overcome the intrinsic difficulties of malnutrition and parents without the disposable income and surplus attention to get them the kinds of educational advantages his own kids enjoy.

He likens "a quality kindergarten spot for every child in the city" to everyone getting a free Tesla. But the reality is that a quality education is not a net expense, it's a net profit to the state in the form of higher productivity, less reliance on social services later in life, and the fundamental fairness of social mobility that comes with real education.

What would life be like if the kinds of parents who are passionate enough about their kids' education were willing to lobby for "a quality kindergarten spot for every child in the city" instead of lining up for 16 days to get one of fewer than 50 spots at a kindergarten where they feel their kids will get the education they deserve?

Earlier I asked: when there are more kids than spots in a popular school, how do you decide which kids get in? But shouldn’t the question be: why are there so few quality kindergarten spots in the first place?

The Fairview Line is such a fascinating issue because it invokes our most deeply-held beliefs on class, race, urbanism, public education, and the role of government. A topic that is so complicated is a topic that is not easy to solve.

Of course, it would be fantastic to have a quality kindergarten spot for every child in the city. It would also be fantastic for someone to buy me a Tesla. The kindergarten issue, however, has a few more forces working against it.

The Ohio Supreme Court has declared the state public education funding formula to be unconstitutional and inequitable in multiple cases. This is no secret.

Furthermore, predicting future enrollment in a large, urban district is at best a guessing game. As CPS tries to maintain seats for its transient population, without wasting money on unneeded capacity, there will always be times when there are more kids than spots. Herein arises the chicken-and-egg problem: the more successful, stable, middle-class families live in the city, the better they can predict student populations. But attracting such families requires stable and accessible options for education.


Waiting For Kindergarten [Gerard Sychay/Medium]

(via Kottke)