This Wednesday morning at 10 am, after serving nine days of a 10-day sentence, Kelley Williams-Bolar was released from the Summit County Jail in Akron, Ohio. Her crime? Trying to provide her two daughters with a better education. How on earth did trying to provide your children with a better education become a crime in the United States? Because the political party that currently occupies the White House is completely dependent on the power of education unions, and these unions see all efforts to shift power away from them, and to parents like Williams-Bolar, as a threat to their very existence. The case of Williams-Bolar is a perfect opportunity for the left to stop and reconsider their war on school choice.
Before January 15, Williams-Bolar had no criminal record. She lived in an Akron housing project with her two daughters, worked as a teaching assistant at Buchtel High School, and was going to college to further her own education career. Like any parent, Williams-Bolar wanted to give her children the best education possible. But the grade 6 reading and math scores of students in the Akron City School District are almost 30 points lower than those in neighboring Copley-Fairlawn City School District. While Ohio does allow school choice intradistrict, Copley-Fairlawn does not offer open enrollment to children who live in the Akron City School District. Ohio also offers private-school-tuition scholarships to students in Cleveland, but that program is not available to children in Akron.
So starting in August 2006, Williams-Bolar signed forms claiming her two daughters lived at their father’s address in the Copley-Fairlawn School District. Two years later the Copley-Fairlawn School District hired a private investigator who shot video of Williams-Bolar driving her children from their home in the Akron City School District to a school in their district. “It does not matter if, when she started the lie in 2006, she didn’t know she was going to get caught,” Summit County prosecutor Michael Cody yelled in his closing argument.
While Williams-Bolar went to jail for practicing school choice, leaders of the Democratic Party practice it themselves every day. Growing up in Chicago, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended a private school. Later as Chicago Public Schools chief, Duncan maintained a list of requests from the politically connected for their children to attend the schools of their choice. In the 111th Congress, 44 percent of Senators and 36 percent of Representatives had at one time sent their children to private school.
Growing up in Hawaii, President Obama attended a private school. Growing up first in Chicago and now in Washington, Obama’s two daughters attended and still attend private schools. Questioned how he could possibly justify this in September, President Obama responded: “I’ll be very honest with you. Given my position, if I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in, we could probably maneuver to do it. But the broader problem is: For a mom or a dad who are working hard but don’t have a bunch of connections, don’t have a choice in terms of where they live, they should be getting the same quality education as anybody else, and they don’t have that yet.”
So then why did President Obama take away such a choice for 216 children as one of his first acts as President? The District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) was passed by Congress in January 2004 and provides $7,500 scholarships to low-income D.C. school children. In the fall of 2008, 216 new low-income students were notified by the Department of Education that they had been selected to receive scholarships. Then at the behest of Obama’s education union allies, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent letters to the 216 families informing them that he was taking back the $7,500 in scholarship money that the DCOSP had previously awarded them. The Democratically controlled Congress later voted to phase the program out entirely. Mothers like Latasha Bennett were left scrambling to find good schools for their kids. The DCOSP has been a tremendous success. Students that used a scholarship to attend a private school have a 91 percent graduation rate compared to the less than half of children in D.C. public schools that graduate high school.
The same morning that Williams-Bolar was released from prison, House Speaker John Boehner (R–OH) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I–CT) announced that they will introduce a bill—the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act—to reinstate the DCOSP. The announcement was intended to coincide with the height of National School Choice Week, but the story of Williams-Bolar makes it all the more poignant. Do we really want to live in a nation that jails parents for sending their children to the school of their choice?