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Caring about criminal justice reform means caring about school choice.

Why is America sending mothers to prison for simply sending their children to school?

Kelly William Bolin was sentenced to 3 years in prison and was ordered to pay $30,000 to the school district simply for sending her daughter to a school in a different district than the one she resides in. Bolin’s decision to send her daughter to another school was not a choice; it was a necessity: providing a safe community for her child was her priority. J

Just like Bolin, there are currently many other parents who are not allowed to send their children to other public schools that are not in their districts, thus forcing these kids to remain in unsafe school environments that fail to provide students with a well-rounded education. Private schools are free choice, and so, barring parents from the choice of which public school to send their children is unjust. Although most private schools use school vouchers, financial aid, and scholarships, many low-income families still can not afford to send their kids to private schools. Restricting free choice in terms of public education is classist and furthering inequity.

Thus, we must fight for legislation that allows the option for public education regardless of district code in order to keep our children out of prison, help cultivate citizens, and make sure children are safe in learning environments.

Kelly Williams Bolar is not an outlier.

Take, for example, Tanya Mcdowell. McDowell lied about her district code to enroll her child in a different locality’s school. She was homeless at the time and, like any mother, wanted the best for her child. Even so, she has been villainized, her criminal record brought up in conversations about her decision regarding her child’s education, despite such personal details being irrelevant to the focus of the conversation. She was sent to prison for 5 years.

We, the American people, value education immeasurably because we are aware that education shapes individuals while creating law abiding citizens. We understand that education is not a privilege but instead a human right. And the Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen. Let's start treating education like a human right by allowing students to go to schools outside of their districts regardless of their income. Part of this issue does stem from the issue of underfunding public schools in the United States, and let’s not forget the root to the underfunded education problem: redlining. Nevertheless, until education across districts becomes more equitable, we should not barre parents from making decisions to benefit their children. This disproportionately affects minorities and aids in perpetuating poverty among low-income households.

For those who are inclined to use the economy as a counterpoint for school choice, such an argument falls through. Students and states spend $7 billion each year paying for learning that should have occurred in high school. It is worse for those who never graduated from high school, which still accounts for more than 15 percent of eligible young people. They are more likely to rely on government programs, as high school dropouts account for 90 percent of welfare recipients, less likely to contribute to economic growth, as the average high school dropout costs the economy $240,000 over a lifetime, and more likely to enter the criminal justice system, as 85 percent of juveniles entering the system are illiterate. Providing students with more opportunities to tailor their learning to their needs and desires, while also providing more marginalized students the opportunity to attend better schools, could put an end to this cycle, or at the very least, decrease the number of high school dropouts.

It has been proven to be true that parents who can pick the school their child attends become more involved in their child's education and improve academic achievement. However, this choice is only given to parents who can afford sending their kids to private schools.

Returning to Tanya McDowell’s story, she is just 1 out of many parents who get fined for sending their kids to school. And there are many more who live in fear of getting caught about lying about their school district simply to give their child a proper education. Allowing school choice will not only help our economy prosper, keep young adults out of jail, allow teachers to tailor the education of students but it will allow families to be in charge of their own education.

But most importantly, we can not forget about the kids-- those with mothers like Kelly William Bolar or Tanya Mcdowell, or the many other kids that have not been caught. Let's help these students who are but the product of red lined communities. Let’s focus on uniting families and allowing them to create their own decision.

Let's do this together by advocating for school choice.


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