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Is wanting a better education a crime?

By Andy Ceballos
On April 27, 2011

Wanting a better education for your children should not be a crime. In Ohio and Connecticut, however, it is.

According to an article published April 22 by National Public Radio, two mothers, Kelley Williams-Bolar of Ohio and Tonya McDowell of Connecticut, have been charged with larceny for forging official school documents.

Williams-Bolar used the address of her father to get her two daughters into a better school, according to NPR. The article states that both mothers were found to collectively owe $45,000 in back tuition as a result of sending their daughters to a school district better than the one that they lived in. On top of this, Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail, three years probation and community service.

McDowell, the other mom, is being charged with stealing $15,686 from the school district of Norwalk, Conn., according to NPR. Her case is still pending.

We, as Americans, need to take a long, hard look at an educational system that leaves students with a lesser or greater education depending on where they live. Our greatest aspiration as individuals and as a country is for everyone to have an equal shot at success. That is why our federal government provides grants, student loans and other means of assistance in an effort to level the playing field.

We must look at the broader picture, however. How have we reached this point as a country, where educational quality is sliced up into good districts and bad ones? How can we relegate people who live in poor communities to a second or third rate education?

We need to find a way to provide adequate resources to elementary, secondary and high schools. One way to do this is to pay more to teachers who teach in lower socio-economic areas. A 2009 analysis conducted by The Washington Post found that students in the D.C. region's low-income areas are almost twice as likely to have a new or second-year teacher in their communities as those in the wealthiest.

By providing incentives to experienced teachers with higher pay or bonuses for teaching in low-income neighborhoods, we can improve the educational quality in these areas. Experts say that experienced teachers are the key to raising academic achievement, according to the Post.

There are a few options for mothers like Williams-Bolar and McDowell to consider, such as sending their children to a magnet school. This is a public, tuition-free school that develops a specialized program teaching a trade. The problem with these schools is that occasionally the specialty of a magnet program might not fit the needs of a family's goals or the learning style of their child.

Charter schools, public schools run by private entities under the sponsorship of a state-approved organization, such as a state board of education, are another option to consider. They are tuition-free and receive funds on a per-student basis like traditional public schools. Unfortunately, due to their limited size and limited numbers, they are not available to all families, which is not fair or equitable to communities.

Ultimately, I believe the best way for us to help parents like Williams-Bolar and McDowell is to invest heavily in public schools. Federal, state and local governments need to come together to find ways to increase funding to provide a higher quality education, regardless of where you live.

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