Criminal parents? They just want a better education for their child

Posted: September 06, 2012

WHAT SHOULD the penalty be for two Philadelphia parents caught sending their child just to a neighboring school district just over the Philadelphia border? In the spectrum of law enforcement, what is the appropriate punishment for these parents trying to get their elementary-school-age daughter a better education in a suburban school district?

Should the daughter be removed and the parents warned? Should she be removed and the parents fined? Should the daughter be removed and the parents forced to pay back to the taxpayers of Lower Moreland Township $10,753, which is the cost of tuition for an out-of-district child attending Lower Moreland schools?

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman doesn't think any of those remedies are enough. She has demanded that the family pay back the $10,753 and she has charged them criminally with theft of services and conspiracy of theft of services.

That's right. Ferman has charged parents seeking to escape the substandard Philadelphia public schools with a crime. This despite the fact that Olesia Garcia, the mom of the student, has a dad who lives in Lower Moreland Township, which is the residence where she claimed she lived with her dad and her daughter.

This case has all the earmarks of the case of Kelly Williams-Bolar, an African-American woman and teacher's aide in Akron, Ohio, who spent time in jail for falsifying enrollment records so her two daughters could attend a better school district. Because of her felony conviction, she will not be allowed to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher.

Don't cases like this and many others across the country cry out for a voucher system that would allow middle-class and poorer parents to escape substandard public schools and use their tax dollars to get the best education for their kids?

The people who know best about escaping the big-city public schools are the nation's public-school teachers. A recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that public-school teachers are more than twice as likely as other parents to send their kids to private schools. They found that in Philadelphia, 44 percent of the teachers sent their kids to private schools. The statistics in other cities are equally revealing: Cincinnati, 38 percent; Baltimore, 35 percent; Chicago, 39 percent.

These teachers are making the choice, but their unions consistently are in the lead in blocking the voucher system for those parents who can't afford private schools.

The push in many instances for school choice or opening more charter schools is being led by black and Latino parents. Their gut feelings that these measures help their kids is backed up by a recent study by two Harvard professors.

The study found that the voucher program had little overall impact on college attendance, but had statistically significant positive affect on whether African-American students attended college or not. The Brookings Institution also reports that the study found that for African-American students there was a significant increase in full-time college attendance and enrollment in private, four-year colleges.

You can expect even more battles with teachers' unions with the release of the film "Won't Back Down," starring Maggie Gyllenhall and Viola Davis. It involves a battle over "parent trigger" laws - laws now in seven states that allow parents to turn a public school into a charter school if they get 50 percent or more of the parents of kids enrolled in the school to sign a petition. I wonder how many schools in Philadelphia would take advantage of a law like that?

Of course, people like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, are already attacking the film and singing the song that schools really need more money and support for teachers. She and others suggest that parents are being duped by corporate interests in the push to turn to charter schools.

It will be interesting to see how a jury in Montgomery County will decide if the Garcias go to trial for the crime of trying to get their daughter a better education. Who would like to make the argument for the quality of education at many Philadelphia public schools? I'd call former Philadelphia school superintendent Arlene Ackerman as the first witness for the defense of the Garcias.

Given the fact that there are more important crimes the Montgomery County D.A. should be pursuing and prosecuting, the Garcia case is a case of publicity over community priorities. I believe there should be some type of penalty, but Ferman's pursuit of criminal charges is harsh, heavy-handed and over-the-top.

Who would have thought it was a crime to want a better education for your child?


Teacher-turned-talk-show host Dom Giordano is heard on WPHT (1210-AM) radio. Contact Dom at domgiordano.com.

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