Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Latest Crime Wave: Sending Your Child to a Better School

A powerful article in today's WSJ about parents being prosecuted for trying to get their kids into a better school, with a nice mention of DFER Chairman Kevin Chavous.  I love this line: "Only in a world where irony is dead could people not marvel at concerned parents being prosecuted for stealing a free public education for their children."

In case you needed further proof of the American education system's failings, especially in poor and minority communities, consider the latest crime to spread across the country: educational theft. That's the charge that has landed several parents, such as Ohio's Kelley Williams-Bolar, in jail this year.

An African-American mother of two, Ms. Williams-Bolar last year used her father's address to enroll her two daughters in a better public school outside of their neighborhood. After spending nine days behind bars charged with grand theft, the single mother was convicted of two felony counts. Not only did this stain her spotless record, but it threatened her ability to earn the teacher's license she had been working on.

In January, Ohioan Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years of probation, and 80 hours of community service for having her children attend schools outside her district. Gov. John Kasich reduced her sentence last month.

Ms. Williams-Bolar caught a break last month when Ohio Gov. John Kasich granted her clemency, reducing her charges to misdemeanors from felonies. His decision allows her to pursue her teacher's license, and it may provide hope to parents beyond the Buckeye State. In the last year, parents in Connecticut, Kentucky and Missouri have all been arrested—and await sentencing—for enrolling their children in better public schools outside of their districts.

These arrests represent two major forms of exasperation. First is that of parents whose children are zoned into failing public schools—they can't afford private schooling, they can't access school vouchers, and they haven't won or haven't even been able to enter a lottery for a better charter school. Then there's the exasperation of school officials finding it more and more difficult to deal with these boundary-hopping parents.

From California to Massachusetts, districts are hiring special investigators to follow children from school to their homes to determine their true residences and decide if they "belong" at high-achieving public schools. School districts in Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey all boasted recently about new address-verification programs designed to pull up their drawbridges and keep "illegal students" from entering their gates.

Other school districts use services like, which provides "the latest in covert video technology and digital photographic equipment to photograph, videotape, and document" children going from their house to school. School districts can enroll in the company's rewards program, which awards anonymous tipsters $250 checks for reporting out-of-district students.

Only in a world where irony is dead could people not marvel at concerned parents being prosecuted for stealing a free public education for their children.

In August, an internal PowerPoint presentation from the American Federation of Teachers surfaced online. The document described how the AFT undermined minority parent groups' efforts in Connecticut to pass the "parent trigger" legislation that offers parents real governing authority to transform failing schools. A key to the AFT's success in killing the effort, said the document, was keeping parent groups from "the table." AFT President Randi Weingarten quickly distanced her organization from the document, but it was small consolation to the parents once again left in the cold.

Kevin Chavous, the board chairman for both the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Democrats for Education Reform, senses that these recent events herald a new age for fed-up parents. Like Martin Luther King Jr. before them, they understand "the fierce urgency of now" involving their children's education. Hence some parents' decisions to break the law—or practice civil disobedience. 


The Latest Crime Wave: Sending Your Child to a Better School

School districts hire special investigators to follow kids home in order to verify their true residences.


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