The proposed changes to Columbia County's pre-K lottery system are a great idea.
While there is some skepticism - see the letter today from Andy Crosson for a well-stated example - elementary director Michelle Sherman has done a fine job of restructuring the drawing system.
There has been tinkering around the edges before, of course. Most notable was in 2007 after the infamous incident at River Ridge Elementary, when changes were made to make it harder for rigging the drawings in favor of specific children.
But those revisions still left what Superintendent Charles Nagle rightly calls a "circus atmosphere" during each school's drawings, and they didn't prevent the emotional train-wrecks when some children's names weren't drawn.
Sherman's new plan is to hold drawings for all schools at the board office. Instead of pulling names out of a hat, school officials will draw ID numbers known only to the child's parents and the school. Those numbers then will be posted on the system's Web site for parents to check at their convenience to find out if their child has been chosen.
It's straightforward to the point of being clinical, which is how such a program should be conducted.
But we have to ask: Is any of this really necessary?
Drawings of some sort are needed because the state lottery funds don't pay for enough slots in public schools for every eligible child.
However, the pre-K program itself is not mandatory. Columbia County's school system has no obligation to provide it, and state-funded pre-K is available at private facilities for parents who want it.
Sure, there are differences; private sites don't provide bus service, for one. But the school system is being overly generous by keeping the pre-K program - especially in a time of shrinking state budgets and rising student enrollment.
The system this year logged nearly 600 new students - enough to fill an entire school. Meanwhile, pre-K enrollment is at 357, requiring 18 classrooms and teachers.
If the county is going to hold a drawing to determine who gets the limited pre-K slots, the new system seems to be as fair as possible. But the fact remains that the school system should ask if keeping the pre-K program at all makes sense.
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