Americans are fortunate to live in a country where every child is guaranteed a good education through the twelfth grade regardless of socio-economic status. It is sad though, that all children do not receive an equivalent educational experience regardless that the federal government and states provide schools and educators with equal funding, curriculum, and standards that dictate equal opportunities for every child. In nearly every part of the country, minority and poor students are not afforded the same environment for learning as their wealthier counterparts and it has engendered disparate opportunities for academic success. Parents desperate for their children to attend schools in wealthier neighborhoods are restricted from moving their children because schools limit attendance to students living within a district’s boundaries. Some parents have resorted to enrolling their children in better school districts by using a friend or relative’s address even though the children live outside the preferred school’s boundaries.
The poor economy and home foreclosures has made the problem worse because many families who are now homeless have no permanent address and if they do manage to find shelter, they usually end up in extremely poor neighborhoods where substandard schools are the norm. In Connecticut recently, there are reports of parents facing serious prison time for using a friend’s or relative’s address to enroll their children in richer schools. There are several factors at play that force parents to seek out a better education for their children, but it is unconscionable that parents face prison time for simply wanting their children to have a better education, but that is exactly what is happening.
In a typical case, a homeless mother in Connecticut faces 20 years in prison because she sent her son to the wrong school. The mother is charged with felony first-degree larceny for using a false address to register her son in kindergarten, and it resulted in the child being expelled and the woman being jailed awaiting trial. The mother cannot be faulted for trying to provide her son with a better educational opportunity that is lacking in a poorer neighborhood, but with cuts to public education and budget deficits, the problem is growing. The outrage is that wealthier school districts are going to extremes to catch improper registration by offering bounties for tips about illegal enrollment, using private investigators, and conducting stakeouts to identify legal residency requirement violations.
Some districts have begun using private residency verification services that offer residence audits and surveillance stakeouts using “the latest in covert video technology and digital photographic equipment to photograph, videotape, and document subject activity when logistically possible.” After being alerted by concerned citizens or verification services, a district follows up with visits by attendance officers to verify students live at the suspect address. Once the alleged boundary-hoppers are identified, charges are filed and one judge brazenly said she was handing down harsh sentences to make an example out of parents “so that others who think they might defraud the school system perhaps will think twice.”
The issue should not be that parents seek the best and safest environment for their children’s education, but why there are disparities between wealthy and poor neighborhood schools in the first place. In most cases, it is not that better-funded and equipped schools are in different cities or regions, but that within the same district wealthy neighborhoods have better schools than poor neighborhoods. Inner city schools are not equipped or staffed as well as schools in suburban areas and the difference is more often than not racial and economic makeup. For example, one California school in an underdeveloped area of the city barely has sidewalks, a cafeteria, and teacher’s aides, but within the same district just a mile away, a similarly-aged school has a state-of-the-art gymnasium, new cafeteria, and technological amenities because it is in a nicer neighborhood. It is noteworthy because both schools are in the same district with the same superintendent, school board, and property tax rate.
In another area of the state, a high-school in a wealthy area has an Olympic-style aquatic center, state-of-the-art football stadium with a million-dollar artificial turf field, and training facilities any college would envy, but a high school two-miles away doesn’t have an adequate gymnasium or locker facility. The disparity is striking and it is all down to the neighborhood each school is located in. It is easy to discern who is at fault because federal and state funding goes to a school district that decides where the money goes. It is curious that one district is allotted the same amount of money and yet the local school board gives more to the schools in wealthier neighborhoods than areas with mostly minority and poor students. In many instances, school board members live in wealthy areas and they make sure a lion’s share of school budgets are funneled to their own neighborhood schools while they ignore the needs of poorer schools.
The federal and state governments need to do a better job overseeing where precious funding ends up to guarantee all of the nation’s students have a level playing field, but despite their best efforts, local districts decry government overreach and resist equality in education. If every school district funded each school equally, parents would not feel compelled to cross one school’s boundary to enroll their children in a better staffed and equipped school. No-one can blame parents for wanting their child to learn in an environment that is conducive to learning, and if there was no disparity between schools in the same district, city, or state, no parent would feel the necessity to lie about their child’s residency.
If the federal and state government’s would audit where funding goes and punish wealthy school boards for giving preferential treatment to schools in their own neighborhoods, the boundary hopping problem would disappear. However, in America, the wealthy are always rewarded whether it is with higher-quality schools or tax breaks the poor and working class never receive. This nation’s children all deserve the same opportunity to learn and thrive regardless of socio-economic status. It is difficult enough for poor children to escape the cycle of underachievement and poverty, but the cycle can be broken and the first step is offering every child the same opportunity to learn in a safe, enriching environment; until that is accomplished, more parents are going to be sent to prison for sending their children to the wrong school. In this instance, the wrong school for poor children turns out to be the wealthy school, and instead of punishing the parents, they should be rewarded for taking any step necessary to ensure their child receives the best possible education.