When Congress began phasing-out the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program in 2009, some parents were forced to send their kids to public schools that are failing and often unsafe. When asked by these parents about what options exist for them, I was at a complete loss as to how to advise them.
It troubles me greatly that parents are made to feel hopeless and helpless when faced with failing neighborhood schools that their children must attend because they don’t have the resources to either move to a neighborhood with better schools or to pay private school tuition.
But nothing has touched and angered me so much as the story of Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar, who was charged with a felony and went to jail for taking her kids out of her failing school to a better public school in an area where her father lives. The Ohio courts ruled that Williams-Bolar had been untruthful in saying that her children lived with her father. She was sentenced to 10 days in jail and community service for falsifying records so that her children could attend the high-achieving suburban district rather than Akron public schools.
Of course, parents should never engage in fraud or the falsification of public records, but I was outraged that Williams-Bolar’s behavior in this case led to both a felony charge and jail time. To me, that is excessive, and she never should have been put in such a situation. The judge in the case was very clear in her decision that the verdict in this case needed to be an example for all parents who might be thinking of sending their children to schools outside their school districts. In my mind, however, the same lesson could have been taught through the use of civil penalties rather than criminal punishment.
Because of her criminal conviction, Williams-Bolar, who said she was trying to keep her daughters safe, now runs the risk of being disqualified as a school teacher. She is currently an aide for special education classes and is near completion of a college degree that would allow her to become a teacher. Felons in Ohio can be disqualified from working as teachers. So now her future livelihood is jeopardized.
This whole situation is an example of why we need school choice. If Williams-Bolar had seen another option to keep her children safe and highly educated in their school, I’m sure she would have taken it. With so many urban schools failing our students, many parents are desperate to get their children into better educational environments. It is sad that she was forced to take a position that got her into trouble when all she wanted to do was protect her daughters and give them a chance for a quality education.
I pray that this mother is able to move forward successfully and that her daughters receive the education they deserve. We must continue fighting for school choice programs across our great nation.