The case of Kelley Williams-Bolar demonstrates the injustice of our educational system.
She is the mom from Akron, Ohio, who served nine days in jail last month after being convicted of falsifying documents that would have allowed her children to attend a suburban school district -- one that she believed was safe and would give her children opportunities to succeed.
She had no criminal background. She had a solid work history. She was in the process of getting her own teaching license. And she wanted to make sure her two kids got a good education. So she used her father's address instead of her own because the schools in his district were better.
She is not the first parent to try to bend the rules. Parents of athletes have been known to do it so their kids could go to the school with the best team. Other parents have worked the system to try to give their kids an advantage.
But Williams-Bolar got nailed.
Yes, she did commit a felony. Yet, if we were honest with ourselves, how many of us would not do the same thing if faced with similar circumstances?
The reason why this mother, with the help of her elderly father, tried to game the system is because we fund public education unjustly in this country.
Ohio, like many states, partially funds its schools through local property taxes, which is fundamentally unfair. It gives huge advantages to wealthy school districts. And it perpetuates failure for children in poorer school districts. (Even "The Simpsons" got the ridiculous nature of school funding in a 2009 episode called "Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D'oh.")
This reliance on property tax funding led Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., to call on Attorney General Eric Holder to "intervene on behalf of Ms. Williams-Bolar." Said Jackson: "She represents millions of Americans who recognize the unfairness of an education funding system that is based on local property taxes."
If Williams-Bolar's conviction is to result in something meaningful, then parents, teachers, students, politicians and reformers need to create a more robust and equitable system of education, where quality schooling isn't attached to a zip code and to socioeconomic status. And it requires us not to consider children as assembly-line pieces or discrete units on a bottom line, but as vulnerable individuals who deserve our most noble intentions on their behalf.
No one should have to face the choice that Williams-Bolar faced: Send her kids to inferior schools, or fudge the facts and commit a crime.
Fred McKissack is a former Progressive magazine editor and editorial writer who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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