Grassroots Commentary

Parents Face Jail for Unauthorized Grocery Purchase

Louis DeBroux · Feb. 11, 2014

Okay, not really, but the situation is equally bizarre, if not more so. As reported by CBS Philly, the local CBS News affiliate in Philadelphia, last month Hamlet Garcia and his wife Olesia avoided seven years of prison time by pleading guilty to “felony theft” and agreeing to pay $11,000 in restitution. Their heinous offense? Providing false information to the local school system in order to enroll daughter in the Lower Moreland school district.

Like tens of millions of parents across America, the Garcias live in an area with poorly performing schools and, wanting a better education for their daughter, they lied about where they lived in order to make sure 5-year old Fiorella received the education necessary for her to be successful in life. And for this, they were almost imprisoned.

Apparently unaware of just how insane he sounded, Montgomery County prosecutor Steven Latzer declared to the press that “Hamlet Garcia has been brought to justice. He has admitted that he wrongfully enrolled his child in the Lower Moreland School District.” Brought to justice? Seriously? The outcome can be described in many ways, but “justice” is not one of them.

Sadly this dilemma is all too common in America. Low and middle income parents who want nothing more than to make sure that their children receive a good education in order to escape lives of poverty are faced with a choice between breaking the law, or seeing their dreams of success for their children crushed before they even have a chance to flourish.

Why are so many parents faced with only these choices? Because politicians and special interests rabidly fight against educational choice, imprisoning children in schools assigned by the government based on the residence of the parents, with no other choice unless parents can afford to spend thousands more on private school tuition (on top of the property taxes they pay to fund the local government school system), or move to an area with much better public schools. Since these schools are predominantly in more affluent areas, neither is a viable option for most parents, which is why some desperate parents like the Garcias risk prison time to give their child a good education.

Can you imagine purchasing groceries for your family this way, with government bureaucrats assigning you to a certain grocery store based on where you live, and threatening financial penalties and jail time if you try to purchase from another grocery store? What kind of choice and selection do you think you’d get at such a grocery store when the management knows you have no other options? Would the fruit be fresh, with a large variety to choose from? Would you have a large selection of Grade A meats? What about specialty items? Or would it be like the former Soviet Union, where people waited in line for hours for a chance to get the last bit of stale bread, and potatoes that were starting to rot?

In a free market system, choice and competition drives down prices and increases quality and selection. A government-run system brings poor quality, few choices, and horrible service. I am reminded of the story of the first McDonald’s that opened in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The American trainer, instructing new Russian employees on how to properly interact with the customers (smile, be friendly and courteous), was interrupted by a Russian teenager who asked with surly defiance, “Why do we have to be so nice to the customers? After all, WE have the hamburgers, and they don’t!”

The American system of “public” (government-run) education in many ways suffers from the same problems as the Soviet teenager. The system has, for all intents and purposes, a captive clientele, regardless of the lack of friendliness, efficiency, and quality the system provides, all at a high cost. Yet it is even worse than that because, whereas Soviet citizens could choose not to buy a hamburger, American parents are required by law to make sure their children receive an education. This means that unless they can afford to move or pay private school tuition, their children are required by law to attend that failing government school, no matter how dangerous, no matter how poor the quality of education, no matter whether the school addresses the needs of the child.

To make matters worse, Democrats, beholden to the teacher unions, have attempted to crush any and all efforts to provide parents with a way to help their children escape failing schools. It was Democrats who defunded the spectacularly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, which took thousands of poor, inner-city minority children and put them in private schools, with 91% of them graduating high school. It was Republicans who restored funding for this wonderful program. Likewise, it is Attorney General Eric Holder who has tried to shut down the voucher program in Louisiana, which has also shown great success. The bizarre reasoning is that taking minority students out of failing schools and putting them in successful schools lowers the ratio of white-to-minority students remaining at the failing schools.

The United States spends the second highest amount of money per student of any industrialized nation, yet we rank lower-middle of the pack in academic achievement. In math, American students rank behind countries like Estonia, Slovenia, and Macao. In reading, we are behind the likes of Taipei, the Czech Republic, and Portugal. In science, we lag behind countries like Vietnam, Liechtenstein, and Korea.

The protectors and defenders of the public school status quo argue that we need to throw more money at education, have smaller school sizes, and increase teacher certification requirements. Yet education spending has been skyrocketing for decades (nearly $80 billion for the federal Department of Education, which does not include the hundreds of billions more spent at the state and local level, or the tens of billions in additional “stimulus” funds provided over the last five years), far outpacing inflation and student enrollment growth. Asian countries routinely have far larger class sizes, yet produce far higher levels of academic achievement. And numerous studies have shown virtually no change in student performance between teachers with and without certification.

These same defenders argue that education is far too important to leave exposed to the vicissitudes of free market competition. Yet it is precisely because education is so critical to a child’s success in life that we must turn it over to the free market. If we attach the funding to the child, to be spent by parents on the school that best fits their child’s needs, then we will find that a wide variety of schools entering the market, customizing curriculum and teaching styles to accommodate the child. No more of the anachronistic, Industrial Age behemoths that today pass for institutions of education. No more “one size fits all” approach.

Free market competition in the IT field has given us smartphones with more computing power than a desktop of just a decade ago. It has given us video chats and live streaming, and laptops and tablets with massive increases in computing and storage capacity at a fraction of the cost. Innovations in the medical field have given us 3-D ultrasounds and ultra-precise surgery performed by robots.

Yet Democrats and teachers unions have our education system mired in the age of locomotives, the Model T, and the phonograph. Competition works. Our education system needs it. Our children deserve it.

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