Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Should Parents Go to Jail for Lying to Get Their Kids Into Better Schools?

From the Christian Science Monitor:
Kelley Williams-Bolar served nine days in jail, with three years of probation and community service. She was found guilty in Akron, Ohio, on Jan. 18 of two third-degree felonies for having her children attend school in a city in which she did not live.
So, this woman falsely claimed that her children lived with their grandparents, so they could go to a good public school, instead of the drop-out factory that their neighborhood was zoned into. Some people are outraged at her prosecution for what they see as civil disobedience against an arbitrary, unfair education system. Critics say that she was a liar who stole education from a district in which she didn't pay taxes.

I'm not terribly surprised that she was prosecuted and went to jail; she did break the law, after all. As a D.C. resident, however, I can appreciate her predicament. I currently have no children, but given how much the quality of education varies by school here in D.C., I understand the temptation to try to cheat the system in order to get your child into a school that doesn't doom their chance to excel later in life.

This case demonstrates how broken the U.S. education system is - that whether or not you receive a good education is (largely though not exclusively) a function of where you live; where you live is (largely though not exclusively) a function of how much money you make; and how much money you make is (largely though not exclusively) a function of the family you were born into. This is particularly true in education since local taxes pay for most public education costs; if there's no tax base to pay for good schools in a community, the schools will often be poor. So, harsh zoning and hyper-local financing and administration of schools can actually perpetuate poverty and inequality, instead of promoting education as a means for people to move up the social ladder.

It's beyond the scope of this post to describe potential fixes for the U.S. education system, but it's been on my mind lately (I finally saw Waiting for Superman not too long ago).  I don't agree with absolutely everything in the film, but that film and this case demonstrate the extent to which the system is broken, and that the poor are the ones who continually get the short end of the stick when it comes to public education in the U.S.

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