At an increasing rate throughout our country, parents are being criminalized, investigated, prosecuted and/or jailed for lying about their child's residence so that they can attend a better school. Districts are shelling out thousands of dollars hiring private detectives and lawyers to suss out who the culprits are, and when they find the so-called perpetrators, what do they do? They ask them to pay delinquent school tuition for the years their child was illegally attending their public school, and they ask that they either remove their child from the school, or pay tuition for the remainder of the time that the child remains enrolled! If the parent can not or will not comply with these terms, they face jail time. Please let me emphasize again that these are public schools we are talking about.
Public schools were created so that every child in the United States of America could have an opportunity to obtain a free, quality education. This bold idea of universal education for all its citizens is said to be a cornerstone of our democracy and yet it seems to be a lie.
The school district in Swarthmore, PA is ranked 26th, out of the 543 school districts in Pennsylvania. Less than 5 miles down the road, and I mean that literally, if you stay on Chester Road in Swarthmore and go South, in less than 5 miles, you will be in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Chester-Upland School District is ranked 524th out of the 543 school districts in Pennsylvania. In less than 5 miles a child can go from obtaining one of the best educations in the state, to one of the worst. This is one scenario but examples such as this one can be found in every region of this country.
Swarthmore is an affluent, predominantly white community and Chester is an impoverished, predominantly Black community. The residents of Swarthmore pay exorbant taxes to keep their schools in the condition that they are in, whereas the average household in Chester is struggling to meet their basic needs, much less pay the taxes that would be necessary to pull their schools out of the gutter. So despite our free, public education system which promises that all children will receive a quality education, children are still only receiving the best education that they and their families can afford.
We tell parents to send their children to the public school within the confines of where they pay taxes under the guise that it's just as good as the district on the other side of the town, when we know that's not the truth. Does any of this sound familiar?
Under the legal doctrine of “Separate but Equal,” facilities, schools included, were allowed to be separated by race, on the condition that the quality of each group's public facilities was to remain equal. We now tell parents that they can not send their children to exceedingly better schools less than 5 miles down the road because they should be sending them to the school within their own district, given that they are both public schools, so one should be equal to the other. But just as colored accommodations were nowhere near the standard of their white counterparts, the schools in poor neighborhoods pale in comparison to the public schools readily available in affluent communities.
And just as in the days of separate but equal when Blacks were persecuted for using the accommodations of whites in the attempt to obtain better for themselves, we are now punishing poor families for sending their children to rich, albeit public schools, in the hopes of securing better lives for their children. It is shameful that history is being allowed to repeat itself. It took more than sixty years to overturn Separate but Equal. How long will it take for us to right this wrong, and how many families will suffer in the process?
Black children need to be offered the same educational opportunities as their white counterparts. How well educated you are, in our society, largely dictates how successful you will be. If we are unable to level out the educational playing field, the Black population will continue to struggle with unemployment rates, incarceration rates and be disproportionately poor when compared with the rest of population. Nowhere is public school reform needed as much as in Black and socio-economically disadvantaged communities. We need to demand better funding from our government and higher standards from our schools. The real tragedy here is not that these parents are being persecuted for sending their children to schools in other districts, but that that has become a necessity.