While I generally try to avoid writing about specific news cases (because I’m not an investigative journalist), once in awhile a story hits the headlines that is so heinous I can’t help but address it. If I’m misunderstanding any particulars of this situation, please forgive me; but the point of this commentary is much broader than this one incident.
Doubtless you’ve heard about the single mother in Ohio named Kelley Williams-Bolar who received a felony conviction for lying about her residency to get her teenage daughters into a better school district. A felony conviction. This is the level of seriousness normally applied to such offenses as attempted murder, serious drug dealing and bank robbery. The mother has no previous criminal convictions and works as a special-ed teaching assistant while going to school to get her teaching certificate. Judge Patricia Cosgrove – who admitted she wanted to make an example of Ms. Williams-Bolar – stated, “I felt that some punishment or deterrent was needed for other individuals who might think to defraud the various school districts.” Ms. Williams-Bolar served 10 days in jail and was told she would serve her full sentence of five years if caught again.
Yes, let’s cruelly punish those people whose children are trapped in festering hellholes and who will do anything – even break the law – to get them a better education.
Here are the details as ABC News reported them. After her home was broken into, Ms. Williams-Bolar (a low-income single mom) decided she wanted her daughters to stop attending the local schools and instead attend schools in the nearby highly-ranked Copley-Fairlawn district. Her father resides in that district, so she used his address to register her girls.
For four years she got away with it until the school district’s private investigator (cha-ching!) shot video showing Williams-Bolar driving her children into the neighboring district. School officials said she was cheating because her daughters received a quality education without paying taxes to fund it. “Those dollars need to stay home with our students,” school district officials said.
So let me get this straight. Ms. William-Bolar’s 64-year-old father presumably has no minor children attending the local schools, but 53 percent of his property taxes are applied toward those schools even though he receives no personal benefits. Yet the district won’t allow him to use those tax dollars for his granddaughters. Huh?
The mom admitted she did it to keep her children safe. I’m going to take a leap of logic here and assume that the Akron schools are dangerous enough that Ms. Williams-Bolar feared for her daughters’ physical safety, not to mention their academic futures. Take a gander at this article and review the statistics for poverty in each school district. No one in their right mind would prefer the Akron schools over the Copley-Fairlawn School District. Girls have been attacked, mugged and raped in inner-city schools all over the country. Can I blame the mother if she wanted something better for her daughters? Seems to me her most serious crimes are poverty and desperation.
Syracuse University professor Boyce Watkins said, “I felt that the sentence was draconian and really, the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, it’s such a microcosm of everything that is wrong with America when it comes to access to educational quality, when it comes to economic inequality and when it comes to inequality in the criminal justice system.”
Interestingly, even a Copley-Fairlawn district resident who applauds the conviction admits, “People who have never ventured into subsidized housing complexes and talked with the folks who live there can’t fully appreciate the level of desperation, fear and hopelessness that can infest those places. The atmosphere can cripple expectations for adults and children alike.” Despite those sentiments, this columnist essentially says “tough patooties” to the conviction, because Ms. Williams-Bolar stole money from his pocket. “Sad as this situation is, falsifying documents to defraud a school is no different than falsifying documents to defraud a doctor, a plumber or anyone else,” he says.
I am not saying that Ms. Williams-Bolar is not guilty of breaking the laws for which she was convicted. I’m saying that the laws which convicted her are seriously flawed to begin with.
For too long, the children of this nation have been under the loathsome dictatorship of the NEA, the U.S. Department of Education and Congress. And those dictators essentially proclaim that every child shall attend school in the district in which he resides. No exceptions. (Unless you’re rich.)
That proclamation is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
My outrage is not about the rightness or wrongness of Ms. Williams-Bolar’s actions. My outrage is with the inflexibility of the educational brown shirts that permit the existence of those festering hellholes laughably called schools. My outrage is with the helplessness of poor parents who are punished for going to any lengths to protect their children from the academic famine of these prisons.
Look, if we’re going to continue federal funding of public education (putting aside the question of whether it’s even constitutional), it is long past time to make changes such as John Stossel outlines in his book “Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity.” Why the hell aren’t we attaching funding to the child rather than to the school district? That way parents are free to place their children wherever they choose, and by doing so schools will be forced to compete for a child’s tax dollars. Literally in one simple stroke, the vast majority of educational issues in this country would be solved by allowing competition between school districts for students’ funding.
But as long as the unholy alliance continues between the despotic entities of the NEA, the Department of Education and Congress – with their insane resistance to criticism, competition and meaningful reform – our public schools will continue to spiral downward, trapping millions of children like the daughters of Kelley Williams-Bolar.
And then we wonder why virtually every other nation on the planet beats us on standardized tests.