By Kyle Olson
GROSSE POINTE, Mich. – In at least one school district in Michigan, officials make it illegal for students to enroll if they live on the wrong side of the tracks.
And they go to absurd lengths to enforce that policy.
Leaders of Grosse Point Public Schools, located in an upscale community northeast of Detroit, regularly engage in spying on students to make sure only those living within the district’s boundaries attend their schools.
Those caught “residency cheating” may be held liable for a tuition payment of $13,030, according to Bridge Magazine.
As the report states, “In Grosse Pointe, school choice is like Communism in the 1950s: You can’t stand too strongly against it.”
In 2005, the district spent $80,000 verifying residency information of all enrolled students. It also spends $8,000 a year on private investigators to “check out tips from teachers, staff and the public” about reported cheaters, according to the magazine.
So teachers have been reduced to snitching on children who are trying to secure a better education for themselves. Isn’t that nice?
This situation is reminiscent of others around the nation, where parents who live in miserable school districts have been brought up on criminal charges for sneaking their kids into better schools.
One recent example comes from Philadelphia, where Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were arrested in late August for allegedly “stealing” $11,000 in educational services from Pennsylvania’s Lower Moreland School District.
District officials allege the Garcias falsely claimed to live with Olesia’s father, a Lower Moreland Township resident, in order to send their five-year-old daughter to Pine Road Elementary School.
A subsequent police investigation determined that at no time did any of the Garcias reside in Lower Moreland.
Should they really have to?
We punish desperate parents who only want the best for their children, instead of searching for more ways to make quality education more attainable for all.
What has our society devolved into?
Like a cop on a stakeout
According to Bridge Magazine, Grosse Pointe Assistant Superintendent Chris Fenton “has sat in his car outside a suspected residency cheater’s address in the predawn darkness, like a cop on a stakeout, watching to see if a boy or girl emerges with a backpack to walk to school.
“He has seen children driven up to a relative’s house in the trunk of a car and let out like illegal immigrants to scurry through the back door and out through the front, as though they lived there. He has peered through windows looking for evidence of habitation. He has knocked on doors and asked to see children’s bedrooms.”
It sounds like Grosse Pointe taxpayers are perfectly happy to employ highly questionable tactics to preserve the status quo.
But school choice advocates aren’t so happy about it. They’re sickened by the idea of poor kids being stuck in miserable schools, and rich people working to keep them there.
Harrison Blackmond, Michigan director of Democrats for Education Reform, faults the system for forcing parents from outside the district to need to sneak their children into Grosse Pointe schools to begin with.
“The system … is designed so only children who live in a district can go to these schools. I think that creates huge difficulties for parents … who want the best possible education for their child,” Blackmond told EAGnews. “I’m one that favors universal school choice; you should be able to go to any public school you want to” with per-pupil funding following the child.
“There is really no reason we need to restrict children to these low performing schools. It shouldn’t matter where they live,” he said.
Blackmond believes Grosse Pointe’s student investigations are “a big waste of money,” but acknowledged that taxpayers in the affluent district contribute more toward local schools than others.
“They’ll argue they give extra money from local property taxes and should be allowed to restrict” students who attend local schools, Blackmond said. “I think there is a better way. I think the state ought to kick in whatever the difference is between what they pay per pupil and what Grosse Pointe is paying per child.
“I think the state should kick in the difference because the state is responsible for educating kids.”
Holding parents liable for $13,000 in tuition just isn’t right, Blackmond added.
“Grosse Pointe is paying out more money per child, so I think it’s only fair to take that into account,” he said, but “the bottom line is the parents and children shouldn’t suffer.”
Keeping the “thugs” out
For some in Grosse Pointe, it’s not only about money. At least one parent is making it obvious they don’t want “thugs” from nearby Detroit coming into their community and disrupting things.
But chances are pretty good that most parents of real juvenile “thugs” don’t care about education and aren’t going to take the time to transport their children nine miles to attend Grosse Pointe schools.
It’s the parents who want better opportunities for their children who will make that drive, and they’re being shut out by people who would prefer to keep “the undesirables” stuck in their miserable neighborhoods and schools.
This is an illustration – albeit a bit extreme – of the type of elitist attitude that’s present in far too many school districts in our nation.
Their leaders only want to educate some students, not all.
It shouldn’t be up to them. The parents of children stuck in miserable public schools should have state-guaranteed opportunities to enroll their kids elsewhere. Michigan has an open school choice program, but districts can opt out if they choose.
Perhaps they should only have that option if they lack space for more students and can prove it.
In the meantime, the Grosse Pointe school board should quickly end the practice of sending school employees and private investigators around to spy on students and their families. If they suspect illegal activity, they should consult the police. In no circumstance should they be allowed to peer in windows or pound on doors, demanding to inspect children’s bedrooms.
Government should never work that hard to deny quality opportunities to citizens aspiring to improve themselves.