- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Five digits. Five single numbers can make or break a child and any hope he has for the future.

This locked-in hopelessness is exactly what Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was trying to avoid for her children. Last week, she became the symbol of educational injustice in this nation as she emerged after nine days in jail for trying to do what every parent hopes to do: Get the best education possible for her children.

Her offense was all related to having the “wrong,” five-digit ZIP code.

Because this single mother of two daughters used her father’s address to enroll them in the Copley-Fairlawn school district instead of her Akron public-housing address, she was sentenced to 10 days in jail. She was convicted of two felony counts of falsifying records because she desperately wanted a better education for her children.

Who could fault Ms. Williams-Bolar, a student teacher, who did her homework and learned what the future held in Akron public schools? In 2009, Akron seventh-graders scored 16 points below the state average in math on standardized tests, 15 points below the state average in writing and 17 points below in reading.



Yet in 2009 in the Copley-Fairlawn district, seventh-graders had a much better shot at a quality education. There, seventh-graders scored 16 points above the state average in math, 14 points above the state average in writing and 13 appoints above in reading. According to GreatSchools.org, Copley-Fairlawn schools rated a 9 on a scale of 10, while Akron schools rated a 4 out of 10.

In the 21st century, it should no longer be a crime for parents to seek a better education for their child. It is immoral to deny parents options beyond a neighborhood public school, one predetermined by an address and ZIP code. Such a system illustrates that 57 years after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, we still have a very separate and unequal education system.

Wealthy parents can change ZIP codes. They can choose to move to a neighborhood with the kind of public schools they want their children to attend. Or they can enroll their children in private schools. Some lucky middle-class or lower-income parents may get a slot at a charter school - but demand far outstrips supply.

The only way to break this educational injustice, which puts our students behind nations such as Estonia, South Korea, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore and Taipei, is to bring competition to the system that denies Ms. Williams-Bolar and parents like her the chance to move their children to the school of their choice.

If this nation wants to compete, then Ohio and other states need complete school choice. Parents should be able to take their tax dollars and educate their children at a school that suits their needs.

Since 1996, Cleveland has had a voucher program that is improving the academic performance of students who transfer to private schools. Ohio pupils with autism can qualify for a school voucher to transfer to a private school that provides more specialized instruction. There also is a pilot voucher program for students in Ohio’s very worst schools, but scholarships are offered to just 14,000 pupils although more than 88,000 qualify.

As long as demand outstrips the allotted number of seats in high-performing schools, we will continue to have outlaws like Ms. Williams-Bolar. If your address means the difference between your beloved son or daughter succeeding or failing, becoming a bank executive or inmate, a doctor or drug addict, what do you do? Breaking the law is more than tempting.

With the national media stirred up about Ms. Williams-Bolar’s plight and civil rights activist Al Sharpton raising funds for her appeal, the focus shouldn’t be just on one family but on all parents in this country who feel compelled to bend the rules or endure educational imprisonment.

With probation and community service still hanging over this mom, one thing is clear: Just as segregation once was legal yet wrong, so, too, is education policy that denies free people an opportunity at a quality education. Without school choice, our nation will never solve ills such as poverty, crime and much of our government debt.

And without the freedom to attend the school of their choice, Ms. Williams-Bolar’s daughters will be denied the same future as children in the Copley-Fairlawn district who might grow up to be lawyers, chief executives or even political leaders. All because of a ZIP code, they too likely will remain part of another generation stuck in a public-housing project - and cut off from a chance at the American dream.

Robert Enlow is president of the Foundation for Educational Choice.

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