Is Caring for Your Kids Criminal?

School Choice Opportunity Hamlet and Olesia Garcia are facing criminal charges in Montgomery County for enrolling their daughter in the suburban Lower Moreland Township school district when they appear to live in Philadelphia. The couple claim their daughter lived with the father in Lower Moreland, but the school district—which monitored the family—says a police investigation shows the car used to drop the girl off at school left a home in Philadelphia.

As the story notes, “It is not uncommon for suburban school districts, especially those bordering Philadelphia, to go to great lengths to prevent parents in other districts from sending their children to those schools.”

Nor is it uncommon for Philadelphia parents to feel hopeless and desperate about their children’s education, especially in a public school system that assigns children to violent and failing schools based solely on ZIP code. Of the 414 schools that make up Pennsylvania’s bottom 15 percent on academic performance, 158 are in Philadelphia. That means nearly two-thirds of the city’s schools are underperforming or failing.

Parents cannot always move to a better school district, or afford tuition at a private school or other public school. Tuition for non-resident students to attend Lower Moreland Township, for instance, is $10,753 a year.

Parents begged Pennsylvania lawmakers to throw families an educational lifeline, to give kids opportunity scholarships to attend good, safe schools. Lawmakers listened, and this summer passed the $50 million Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, which gives businesses tax credits for donating money towards K-12 scholarships.

So far, businesses have used up only $10 million of the available credits for 2012-13, largely because the law’s passage June 30 gave schools, scholarship organizations and businesses little time to prepare for the school year now underway. But there’s no doubt that parental demand for the scholarships is high:

“I get calls and e-mails constantly,” said Kelly Grattan, development director at the Gesu School, an independent Catholic school in Philadelphia. “They’re coming from as far away as Altoona and Pittsburgh,” even though the school only serves the North Philadelphia area. “Parents are desperate.”

It sounds like the Garcias were desperate, too. Their case only underscores why we need more choices in our public school system. What’s really criminal is forcing parents into a corner over their children’s education, and future.