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Jailed for caring

Back in January, we commented on the case of Kelly Williams-Bolar, an Ohio mother of two who was sentenced to 10 days in jail and placed on three years probation for sending her kids to school in a district in which they did not live — “stealing” the cost of their schooling.

She was convicted of registering her two girls as living with the kids’ grandfather so she could drive them daily — at her own expense — to attend better schools.

Here comes the next one.

Tanya McDowell, a 33-year-old homeless single mom who sleeps on a friend’s couch when it’s available, but otherwise lives in her van, was in court in Norwalk, Conn., on Wednesday, accused of “stealing” $15,686 worth of education for her son. The 6-year-old boy was enrolled at Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School between January and Ms. McDowell’s April 14 arrest.

The self-declared homeless woman is charged with felony larceny, suspected of using her baby sitter’s address to enroll her boy in the better-quality Norwalk schools. The charge can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years — equivalent to what Connecticut gives murderers.

Ms. McDowell’s attorney contends 26 other families have also enrolled their children in Norwalk schools under wrong addresses — but only Ms. McDowell was arrested.

“The ordinary way schools handle such suspicions is to notify parents in writing that they are suspected of fraudulently enrolling their children and allow them to defend their action either in writing or at an administrative hearing,” reports Connecticut Post Columnist MariAn Gail Brown.

Responds Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccla: “This is not a poor, picked-upon homeless person. This is an ex-con and somehow the city of Norwalk is made into the ogre in this. She has a checkered past at best.”

Ms. McDowell was arrested in November for marijuana possession and previously served an 18-month prison term for robbery and weapons charges.

But the real question is whether we want low-income parents to show more concern about the quality of schooling their kids get, and how we’re going to reward them if they do.

Somehow, “jail” is not the first answer that comes to mind.

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