Stealing Education

Tanya McDowell is described in a Fox News report as “a 33-year-old homeless woman whose last known address was in Bridgeport, Connecticut.”  She has a criminal record that includes arrests for possession of marijuana and narcotics, and spent 18 months in prison for robbery and weapons offenses. 

McDowell also has a 6-year-old son.  She decided the schools were much better in the neighboring town of Norwalk, so she illegally enrolled him at the Brookside Elementary School, and has now been charged with larceny.  The authorities in Norwalk figure the value of the education she stole from them is over $15,000.  She could end up serving twenty years in prison, if convicted.

Gwen Samuel, founder of an educational lobbying group called Connecticut Parents Union, wants the charges against McDowell dropped.  “Do we really want to be punitive for this?” she asked a Fox News interviewer.  “We just cannot be the state that is stooping to this level.  We can look at this and do it another way. This just should not be happening.”

So a state or city’s attempt to protect the public resources funded by its taxpayers is “stooping” to some nefarious level? 

The exasperated mayor of Norwalk, Richard Moccia, complained that his “very compassionate” city is being made into an “ogre in this.”  He noted that McDowell claimed legal residence in Bridgeport, knew how to post bond, and has a car.  She isn’t a mentally disabled person who blundered into the Brookside Elementary School with a baby in her arms.  She could have sent him to school in Bridgeport, but fraudulently employed a friend’s public housing address to place him in a better school, which happens to be located about 20 miles from the address she gave as her legal residence – apparently the home of a friend she occasionally stays with, when she isn’t living in her van or a homeless shelter.

As an aside, I find myself wondering how the teachers and students of Bridgeport feel about all this.  Just how bad are the public schools in Bridgeport, anyway?  And if Tanya McDowell is not punished for her offense, then how are we to decide who must remain trapped in those Bridgeport schools?  If she can break the law without consequence, then who is required to obey it?  Laws without enforcement are suggestions.  Who will be the last to follow the Connecticut school system’s suggestions about where to send their children?

McDowell’s defenders claim she should not be punished for seeking a better education for her son.  The quest for a better education is understandable, but it shouldn’t be available only to those who are prepared to break the law… and, of course, those who write the laws that keep everyone else’s kids trapped in lousy public schools.  School choice is a great idea, but no one should steal it.

Americans are paying for layer upon layer of government.  These governments have amassed huge public resources.  They have a responsibility to manage those resources wisely, and frugally.  As long as we have a public school system, its requirements should be followed in a orderly manner.  Those requirements don’t dissolve for people who become convinced the system owes them more than others.  The Norwalk Public School system was quick to point out that it makes due provisions for the education of homeless children… provided their parents follow the rules.

The government does not owe people whatever they think they, or their children, deserve.  Instead, it is charged with the careful allocation of the resources taxpayers have given it.  If you would live as a ward of the State, you must obey its rules.  Anyone who chooses to stop living as a ward of the State, because they want more than it allows them, is singing exactly the right tune.  Warning: that tune requires a great deal of hard work to sing properly.

No doubt Tanya McDowell wants a better life for her son.  Her actions have almost certainly guaranteed him a worse one.  She is accountable for those actions.