Locked by district

The thought of someone stalking your child is terrifying. The thought of that person working for the state is beyond thinkable.

School districts are hiring private investigators to follow kids they believe are “stealing education,” or in other words, when a parent registers their child with a school outside their district.

Private Investigator Tina Blanchette shot a photo of a kid taking out trash at an address not recorded with his school. “That’s the money shot,” the investigator said, “when you catch the person where you wanna catch them.” If Tina gets footage of a kid living at a different residence, the district can use that to eject the student from school.   

While the schools are trying to save money, parents and students pay the true price.

Parents found guilty of residency fraud are often low-income and live in higher-poverty districts, which means the quality of schooling their child receives can be substantially worse than in wealthier school districts. The Harvard Kennedy School found poor students could “remain some three to four years behind rich students” in educational achievement. When the gap is that large, it makes sense why so many parents would send their kids to a different school, despite the risks.

However, parents face serious charges.

In 2011, police arrested and charged Hamlet and Olesia Garcia with “theft of services” when the district discovered they had been sending their seven-year-old daughter to Lower Moreland School District. Comparatively, the 3rd grade math proficiency rate is 25 points lower in their home district. In the end, the Garcia family ended up paying over $10,000 in fines, plus legal fees.

Sen. Daylin Leach has proposed legislation that would reduce the penalty for parents when they send their kids to school outside their district. However, like using duct tape to fix your car, it doesn’t address the core problem. Unfortunately, there are too many that are still locked by their local high schools, regardless if they are failing or dangerous.

Parents shouldn’t be threatened with outrageous fines because they want to send their kids to a good school. Children that are in dangerous schools shouldn’t have to stay there because of their parent’s income.

Fundamentally, people need choices that go beyond their neighborhoods.

Tax credit scholarships allow parents to choose any school, even those outside their districts. For many parents, this is the saving grace they have been waiting for. Currently, one out of every two scholarship applications are denied—that’s unacceptable. Already these scholarships have helped thousands find schools and can help many more if expanded.   

The legislature should act and pass House Bill 800, which would allow more families to enroll their kids in a quality school. Every student deserves a quality education, not just those that live in best districts.