Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program

By Audrey Sun

Ask any real estate agent what the most important criteria are when it comes to buying a home, and you’ll likely hear “location, location, location” – a phrase that’s been used for decades. In Silicon Valley, we live among the most successful and highly-aspiring workers in the country. These homeowners and buyers have similar aspirations for their children and their education. They interpret “location, location, location” as “school, school, school.”

In the World War II era, the area we know as Silicon Valley was very different from what we know it today. “Legally sanctioned until the 1960s, housing discrimination manifested in forms of realtor discrimination and restrictive housing covenants, barring people of color from buying property in certain areas,” wrote Natalie Maemura and Anna Nakai in the Palo Alto High School Verde Magazine. It wasn’t until the 1960s that housing laws were revised, and housing discrimination was outlawed. The new rulings, as well as the civil rights movement and social progressiveness, prompted a group of parents in the Ravenswood School District to file a lawsuit in 1976, which argued that students in the South County school districts were denied equal educational opportunities because of the isolation of racial minorities in the district. After a decade of legal wrangling, the case settled with the creation Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program named for Margaret Tinsley, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. The program allows minority students to be transferred from the Ravenswood City School District to Palo Alto and Menlo Park school districts and remains in effect

Who is eligible for the Tinsley Program?

Minority students in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park neighborhoods may apply to transfer out of the Ravenswood City School District. As defined by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, people of the following descent are considered minorities:

  • African American
  • Asian
  • Pacific Islander
  • Filipino
  • Hispanic/Latino
  • American-Indian
  • Alaskan Native

Students applying for the Tinsley Program must be entering kindergarten, first, or second grade for the fall of that school year. Transferring students are selected based on a lottery system. Students who are entering into third to eighth grade are not eligible for the Tinsley Program. Once students transfer into the new school district, they do not have to re-apply every year and continue to remain in that school district for the remainder of their education as long as they reside in eligible addresses.

A Homeowner’s Experience

Home prices in Silicon Valley are heavily dependent on their respectively-assigned school districts. Since many homebuyers are focused on prime education for their children, they are willing to stretch financially to buy homes in areas such as Palo Alto, Central Menlo Park, and West Menlo Park. Homeowners who live in the outskirts of these neighborhoods and would like to enroll their kids in good school districts have the choice of attending private schools or applying for the Tinsley Program

I spoke to one homeowner who lives on Willow Road, who applied for her kids to transfer into the Palo Alto School District who said, “My experience with the Tinsley program was fantastic, the process was easy and fast, and both my kids were able to transfer into the Palo Alto School District. I love everything Menlo Park has to offer, but I could not believe the difference in home prices just because one home is located on one side of the street vs. another side. I feel very lucky that my kids are able to take advantage of the Tinsley Program.”

A Look Toward The Future

As our community continues to strive for educational equality, Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller has floated the idea that Sequoia Union School District should absorb the Ravenswood School District. Even as the Ravenswood School District continues to improve, Mueller said to Palo Alto Online that, “it seems that, for years, the success rate of [Ravenswood students] going into high school and graduation rates… has been an issue and it may be that perhaps a K-12 district with Sequoia’s resources might be able to address that and also provide some stability.”

Menlo Park City, Las Lomitas, Woodside Elementary, Portola Valley, and Palo Alto Unified School Districts are all funded from property taxes associated with assessed property values in their respective areas. Since the Ravenswood District has much lower assessed property values, the district gets most of its funding from the state.

With Facebook’s plan of transforming the former 21-building Menlo Science & Technology Park into the new Willow Campus with “15,000 housing units, 1.75 million square feet of office space, and 125,000 square feet of retail, including an anchor grocery store and a hotel,” DeLeon Realty expects home prices in the Willows neighborhood will skyrocket.  When they do, this will create an influx of funds for locally challenged schools and help balance education opportunities.