05/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Public Is the New Private

"Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore!" Oh, how those words gathered meaning as I skipped down the road to apply to Public School in New York City this year. I'm a mother who got the hay kicked out of her this year in the "perfect storm" that is the current Public School application process. Public, private, sibling admission, you name it; it seems nearly impossible to get your kid educated in the city these days.

My husband, Jon, and I are the parents of a bright, precocious sponge, and decided that we would not apply to a single private school in New York. Why, you might ask? What, pray tell, would possess you to avoid what is, for many city kids, a rite-of-passage? It turns out, we are fortunate to live on the same block as the second highest ranked school in Manhattan, P.S 41. While a part of me wanted to high-tail it back to a cul-de-sac in Kansas, I was thrilled that my daughter would take part in the ultimate, New York City, public school education.

As I dug in with my case for public school -- arguing that public education provides a wonderfully diverse foundation for children in the city and is the reason we pay high taxes -- my decision was being met with a bevy of criticism and warnings, including, "You're ruining your child's life" and "You will set her back and will have to hire tutors to keep up with the private school kids!"

I heard it all as I defended the choice to send my child down the public school road. The more backlash I encountered, the more committed I became to an education at P.S. 41, and I felt impervious to the warring voices...until I was faced with a voice of resistance that could not be ignored.

Our city is experiencing an urban planning disaster: condominium overdevelopment, public school underdevelopment and a financial meltdown. The Emerald City had lost its glitter. Thousands of children are without schools and waitlists for both public and private schools are approaching triple digits. Let me tell you, parents are panicking. It feels like all of my ideals and dreams have abandoned me. The public school education that promised to be so nourishing, and that should be an inalienable right, is now out of reach.

We are now waitlisted for our daughter's neighborhood school, and, having forfeited the opportunity to enlist in a private school, are marooned with few options.

While I try to figure out our next step, I am challenged by the nagging feeling that somehow the optimism and conviction that drove me to travel down this road in the first place, now feels like hopeful naivety. Was there some meeting I missed? I never intended to throw my child into such risky territory. I merely followed my heart and trusted in the system that, as tax-playing, U.S. citizens, we are so deeply invested in.

I guess I forgot I wasn't in Kansas anymore.