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An Education

A little under a year ago, headlines were raging with news of a homeless woman in Connecticut who was arrested for providing a false address to send her six-year-old son to a school in a better district. 33-year-old Tanya McDowell used her babysitter’s address to enroll the child at an elementary school the Norwalk Public School system. Her aim? To give her son a quality education. “I want the best education possible,” she said. “All I wanted was the best for him.” But according to the state, McDowell essentially stole $15,000 worth of educational services. She pled guilty to the charge of felony larceny, as well as four charges of drug possession and sale. Last month she was sentenced to twelve years in prison and ordered to pay a $6,200 fine to compensate for the educational services she “stole.” This wasn’t the only recent case of this kind – in January 2011, Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar was also convicted of lying about her residence when she sent her two daughters to school in a better district.
Both women broke the law by falsifying documents. But is it really fair to say they “stole” services from the state? We shouldn’t discount the drug-related charges in Tanya McDowell’s case, but how does this sentence work to rectify the situation? Not only is McDowell’s son being removed from his school and his better education, but now he is also being removed from his mother. In its mission statement, theNorwalk Public School system says that it works “to create a supportive learning community rooted in the belief that all children can learn.” Key words: All children. The school system also declares that its “students will graduate with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and experiences necessary to ensure their highest potential for success and life-long learning.” In both McDowell’s and Williams-Bolar’s cases, public officials stated that they were hoping to make these women an example and send a message to other parents registering their children with “phony addresses.” How about being less concerned with using these women as an example of why you shouldn’t “steal” from the government and instead be more concerned with serving the kids? Tanya McDowell said it best: “I wanted to send my child to a great school. What kind of crime are you committing by doing that?”

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