Norman LaRocque writes in the NZ Herald on the problems of zoning. Some key points:

* more rigid school zoning laws do not remove selection from the system
* Instead of students being selected by schools, they are selected by whether or not they can afford to buy a house near the school of their choice (selection by mortgage).
* Children of low-income families are excluded from attending popular schools because they cannot afford to live near them
* High-income families have all the choices – they can choose a particular state school by moving to the relevant zone, an integrated school or an independent school if they wish to pay fees.
* Removing zoning can provide increased choice by breaking the link between where a family can afford to live and where children can go to school.
* Zoning legislation raises a fundamental issue: Why should some parents have their right to choice of school denied especially when we know school quality varies, in some cases quite considerably?

And of most interest to me was this:

Research from the Smithfield Project carried out in the 1990s after dezoning shows that Maori and Pacific students took the greatest advantage of choice. The proportion of Maori who attended their local school fell from 82 per cent in 1990 to 69 per cent in 1993. For Pacific students the fall was even greater (from 87 per cent to 67 per cent). For Pakeha, the figure went from 75 per cent to 72 per cent. That’s called voting with your feet.

Norman summarises with some common sense in what is such a polarised debate:

The real issue is which one is better, not which one is perfect. In my view, the costs of zoning exceed its benefits. The changes to zoning laws in the mid-1990s under National and later under Labour had no policy basis. It is time to review them.

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