- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2019

It’s not that difficult to discern the issues at hand in the federal Operation Varsity Blues case.

A man persuades people, some notably wealthy, to pay him to get their children into college, and not just any college, but elite universities such as Georgetown, the University of Southern California and Yale.

The convicted ring leader — a man named William “Rick” Singer — and his parental and university enablers are under arrest, as they should be.

Every liberal and conservative, progressive and libertarian should agree that cheating a child of their education is wrong. It’s simply wrong.

Yet it happens, sometimes is even encouraged, in schools across the country.

Take Atlanta, where the public school system was thrown in chaos after 35 educators were indicted in a cheating scandal in 2009. They didn’t deprive the students of an education, though. But the children were shortchanged academically by the educators falsifying their standardized test scores.

The educators, like those in Operation Varsity Blues, were nabbed and indicted for participating in racket. One of those Atlanta teachers, Shani Robinson, has co-written a book whose title speak volumes, “None of the Above: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Public Schools Cheating Scandal, Corporate Greed, and the Criminalization of Educators.” A write-up on Amazon.com says she’s “currently an advocate for troubled youth and their families.” (Bless her heart.)

Several years later, the D.C. Public School system was hit with a cheating scandal similar to Atlanta’s. The D.C. scandal was the flip side of what’s playing out in Operation Varsity Blues. And you know why. D.C. taxpayers pay for free schooling, free meals and free transportation for all students. In other words, it, too, is pay-to-play, but the wealthy parents generally opt of D.C. public schools — and for good reason.

In 2017, D.C. schools were thrown into chaos when it was learned that teachers and faculty had falsified grades and attendance records, including those of seniors who were slated to graduate. But instead of city officials giving students a hand up, those students were given a handout — a diploma they had not earned.

Mayor Muriel Bowser had yet another scandal on her hands when she learned that her handpicked deputy mayor for education and her handpicked schools chancellor had sneaked behind her back to grant a special transfer for one of the chancellor’s kids.

Back-scratching can be soothing — or so Singer thought as he raked in the big dough.

Singer’s criminal enterprise entailed getting wealthy people to pay him and/or his nonprofit super bucks to get their children into top-drawer schools. By hook and by crook, he bumped up SAT and ACT scores and faked athletic accomplishments.

Two of the most well-known parents caught up in the cheating are actresses Lori Houghlin and Felicity Huffman, both of whom were arrested, jailed and released on bond.

Singer, 58, pleaded guilty on charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. He faces 10 to 20 years in prison.

He reportedly helped more than 800 families and received more than $25 million from parents between 2011 and 2018.

That’s a lot of dough, money that could have been a hand up for academically worthy students, including student-athletes.

Consider the non-academically elite University of Louisville, whose Rick Pitino-led basketball program was mired in a prostitution scandal.

Keep in mind, the governing body of college sports is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, not the National Collegiate Academic and Moral Association.

And so it seems when it comes to education these days.

Who’s asking is it the right or wrong thing to do for students?

Who’s drawing a bright line between right and wrong?

If you think there’s a moral compass in public education and college-level academics, do you know who’s holding it?

What seems more likely is that with all the scandals rocking our education systems too few are unaware that a moral compass even exists.

And we’ll surely find out come Selection Sunday, when the elite colleges pray their “coaches and student-athletes” make the pay-to-play cut for March Madness.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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