Connecticut Bars Felony Arrests for School Zip Code Fraud

Can a public education be stolen? Not in Connecticut anymore.

By Julianne Hing Jul 05, 2013

Connecticut won’t be prosecuting parents for "stealing" their children’s public education anymore. Last week Gov. Daniel Malloy signed into law HB 6677, which prohibits felony arrests for parents who enroll their children in schools outside their zip code. 

The law addresses recent high-profile cases of counties arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating parents–most typically poor mothers of color–for falsifying information to enroll their children in better school districts. It is a common practice, not just in Connecticut, but arrests and criminal prosecutions for such maneuvers have typically fallen squarely on poor women of color. 

HB 6677 (PDF) explicitly says that falsifying information to obtain a "service" like public education for schoolchildren or those enrolled in public school districts will not count as larceny. Residency violations will now be dealt with by school districts themselves as a civil matter.

Before HB 6677 became law, Connecticut convicted Tanya McDowell, a black woman, of first-degree larceny for enrolling her son in the school district of Norwalk. She was eventually sentenced to twelve years in prison for, along with other charges, "stealing" an estimated $15,000 in public education, Connecticut’s WFSB reported. McDowell is not alone. Before her, Kelley Williams-Bolar was sent to jail for ten days for using her father’s address to enroll her daughters in a neighboring school district in Akron, Ohio.

But larger issues remain. Every child in the country may have access to public education, but a high quality public education is a privilege instead of a right. And it’s too often out of reach for the poor and families of color. A high quality education has become a private good, something a family must be in the correct tax bracket, or zip code, to deserve.