The Price Of An Education
Earlier this year, the “college admissions scandal” took over headlines around the world, when it was revealed that over 30 high-profile people, including celebrities, had been accused of buying their children’s spot in elite universities.
Actress Felicity Huffman pled guilty to one count of fraud, after admitting to paying $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score. She was sentenced to 14 days at the Federal Correctional Institution in California that began October 15. Yet after only 11 days, she was released on Friday.
What we knew from the start was that she would receive a slap on the wrist. I don’t think anyone predicted a mere two-week vacation which would then be cut short.
This situation has definitely sparked an overdue conversation about privilege and money in our educational system.
While the scam produced funny material for late night talk show hosts, what’s not funny is how lower-income people fare when they try to get a better education for their children. One glaring example of wealth inequality in education is the case of Tanya McDowell, who went to prison for enrolling her son in the wrong school district.
In 2011, McDowell was homeless in Bridgeport, CT. She was arrested and charged with first-degree larceny for enrolling her then 5-year-old son in a neighboring school in Norwalk. McDowell had prior drug charges, and was picked up for dealing drugs to an undercover officer after her arrest for the school larceny. Not saying it was right, but she was trying to support herself and her child. McDowell eventually took a plea deal and was sentenced to five years in prison for the larceny charges.
"Who would have thought that wanting a good education for my son would put me in this predicament?" McDowell said at her sentencing. "I have no regrets seeking a better education for him, I do regret my participation in this drug case."
While McDowell served three years, her son lived with her mother. "I would still do it all over again because I haven’t been let down," she said. "My son exceeded all of my expectations." At the time of her release in 2017, she was ordered to pay the city of Norwalk over $6,000 for her son’s “stolen" education.
How the heck does one steal education?
If you haven’t figured it out by now, all public education in the United States is not created equal. Oftentimes, parents from low-income backgrounds are forced to use addresses of family members to get their child into a better school district. We all know parents who have done this.
It also shouldn’t come as a surprise that those families most impacted by this disparity are people of color. A recent study found that white school districts have received $23 billion more in state and local funding than predominately non-white districts.
Felicity Huffman had every resource at her disposal, and still chose to cheat for her daughter. She was just trying to give her child the best opportunity, right? Is that not what Tanya McDowell was trying to do?
McDowell should have never been charged, convicted, or sentenced to prison for wanting a better education for her child. She should have had the same educational opportunity for her son as Huffman has for her daughter.
We are in the midst of a system that favors the white and rich. Black mothers like McDowell have few options in trying to secure quality education for their children. There are so many children who have the potential to exceed at high levels and are deprived of that opportunity, because they live in the wrong zip code.
So, Felicity Huffman goes back to her life in the Hollywood Hills to prepare for her 250 hours of community service. I’m sure that she’ll be on her best behavior over the next year while being on supervised release. You know, so that she can be ready for her next TV role.
Experts in crisis management seem to think she did herself a favor as “she handled things the right way,” from a P.R. perspective. She gave an early guilty plea and a public apology which laid the groundwork for the redemption that Hollywood loves. Her life goes on per usual.
What about Tanya McDowell? Crisis management didn’t run to her rescue. She doesn’t have Hollywood to fall back on, and we can be assured that her struggle is real.
The issue here is educational inequality in this country. It’s not a question if wealthy, less-qualified high school students are allowed into elite universities, but when will the quality of a child’s education not be predicated on zip code, race, or economic status?