In Norwalk, Connecticut Tonya McDowell has been indicted for first-degree larceny. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. She is charged with stealing education: she allegedly enrolled her son in Norwalk schools from September 2010 to January 2011 when she did not live there. She is alleged to have used the address of her babysitter who did live in Norwalk. You can read about it here in the New York Times. Several people have expressed outrage that a parent seeking a better education for her child would be subjected to such charges. They argue that what should be under indictment is the system of school funding in much of the United States that relies upon local tax funding and thus makes schools in wealthy neighborhoods more likely to be excellent while leaving schools in poor areas deficient.
There are however, a large number of people who remain silent through all of this. They are the quite rational, well-meaning, sympathetic and even empathetic people who, though they might not have criminally charged Ms. McDowell if it appeared that she had enrolled her child in a school district where she did not live, certainly would have advocated the prompt removal of her child from the school. One of their arguments goes something like this: “I worked hard for years to be able to afford a house in this neighborhood. I work even harder to pay the taxes that support the schools in this neighborhood. Why should someone who hasn’t done those things get to take advantage of the school system here?” I get this argument; I really do. Good quality education can be expensive. Yes, we do in many cases pay taxes for certain other services that may be used by all comers whether or not they live in our neighborhood, such as roads, firefighters, and police. But these, we might assert, are in the realm of the really necessary from a health, safety and welfare standpoint. Moreover, these tend to be services that do not always rely entirely on local funding, or that are not frequently used by non-residents (and still, there are sometimes calls to limit use or to charge a fee for use of even these essential services).
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-Lolita Buckner Inniss