Education theft versus pension theft: lessons for California

In Ohio and Connecticut, two African-American single mothers have been charged with “stealing education” for enrolling their children in a school district where they didn’t live. California can learn from these cases, but must proceed with caution.

Tonya McDowell used the address of a baby sitter to register her 6-year-old son in a Norwalk, Conn., school district. She was arrested, charged with first-degree larceny, and could face repayment of more than $15,000 and 20 years in prison. In Ohio, Kelley Williams-Bolar used her father’s address to get her two daughters into a better school. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years’ probation and community service. She also faces repayment of “stolen” education services.

Enrolling children in school districts where parents do not live is a common practice. Arresting a parent for such action is a new development, but makes sense on its own terms. The government monopoly school system is a kind of totalitarian state with its own border patrol. As the single mothers learned, the system interns kids in failed, dangerous schools and leaves parents virtually no choice.

District officials could have used the cases to review and reform their policies on parental choice, inter-district transfer, or charter schools.

Instead they called the cops and charged the women with theft. California officials should think more than twice if tempted to do likewise.

By the standards applied to McDowell and Williams-Bolar, parents of children in the country illegally are also 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 arrested or required to pay compensation.

California politicians press for special treatment for children of illegal immigrants, such as in-state tuition in the state university system.

California’s U.S. senator, Dianne Feinstein, even tenders private bills to block deportation for specific undocumented persons and grant them U.S. residency. Tanya McDowell and Kelley Williams-Bolar might be forgiven for seeing a double standard, and feeling abandoned.

However their cases play out, their intent was only to gain a better education for their children, and the women did not profit personally from their deception. It is appropriate, however, to prosecute those who do profit from deception, such as those who fake disabilities to spike already lucrative state pensions.

A 2004 investigation by the Sacramento Bee noted that high officials of the California Highway Patrol claimed to be disabled, bulked up their pensions and benefits, then went on to new jobs such as director of security at San Francisco airport, assistant sheriff in Yolo County, and scuba instructor in Hawaii.

Such demanding jobs suggest that the disabilities were suspect, if not totally bogus. The deception brought personal profit, at public expense. But the record shows little evidence of any arrests, prosecutions and demands to pay restitution, as in the case of the single mothers.

Prosecuting single mothers for attempting to get their kids into better schools is not reasonable.

The best response to such cases is to establish full parental choice in education as a matter of basic civil rights. Other states and nations are leading the way, and California should follow.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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