- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2011

Two cases of what might be called “grand theft education” raise serious questions for many states, especially California.

Tonya McDowell, a single mother from Bridgeport, Conn., was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny for “stealing education” by using the address of a baby sitter to register her 6-year-old son in a Norwalk school district where she didn’t live. Ms. McDowell, 33, could face repayment of more than $15,000 and 20 years in prison.

“I know so many people who enroll in other school districts where the kids go home on the weekend to visit their parents so they can have a better education,” Ms. McDowell told reporters. Her son A.J. “loved that school,” she said, “and they pulled him out like he was nothing.”

Local officials said they had never heard of such a case being turned over to the police, but some supported the idea. Norwalk Assistant Superintendent Tony Daddona told the Stamford Advocate, “In a case where a parent has lied about their child’s residence or has moved without notifying the school, there should be legal action taken because it is depriving students of an educational process that Norwalk residents are paying for.”

In Ohio, Kelley Williams-Bolar used her father’s address to get her two daughters into a better school. According to news reports, she was sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years’ probation and community service. Williams-Bolar also faces repayment of “stolen” education services.

These women learned by direct experience that the government kindergarten-through-12th-grade education monopoly traps students in failed, dangerous schools and offers little choice. It’s a reactionary system that features unequal treatment.

Many students in American schools are children of parents who are in the country illegally. By the standards applied to Ms. McDowell and Williams-Bolar, they are stealing education services for which legal immigrants and U.S. citizens pay. But they do so with impunity.

California’s Proposition 187 (1994) would have denied education services to children of illegal immigrants, but the courts invalidated the measure. The state continued to pay for the children’s education. No students were yanked, and no parents were arrested or required to pay compensation.

California politicians press for special treatment for children of illegal immigrants, such as having them pay in-state tuition in the state university system. California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein even tenders private bills to block deportation for specific undocumented persons and grant them U.S. residency.

As it breaks down, undocumented noncitizens get special favors from national politicians and the educational system. On the other hand, the system punishes legal U.S. citizens for simply trying to get their kids into better public schools. Those parents might be forgiven for seeing a double standard and feeling abandoned.

The Connecticut Parents Union has launched a campaign to help Tonya McDowell, but what she needs is full parental choice in education as a matter of basic civil rights. Instead of taking criminal action, the district should have used the case to reform its policy on choice.

Grand theft education does, of course, exist. It is the autopilot transfer of billions of taxpayer dollars to a government monopoly system that delivers mediocrity, resists reform and sends students like A.J. McDowell to the back of the bus.

K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director at the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (pacificresearch.org)