Sent to Jail for “Stealing” School

Jen Roesch reports on the case of Tanya McDowell, a Black single mother prosecuted for “stealing” an education for her young son.

March 7, 2012

Tanya McDowell appearing in court

IN EARLY March, Tanya McDowell was sentenced to 12 years in prison in Connecticut for “stealing an education” for her kindergarten son.

McDowell, a homeless mother who split her time between an emergency shelter in Norwalk, a friend’s home in Bridgeport and her minivan, had used her babysitter’s address to enroll her son in a Norwalk school.

When school officials discovered that her son was improperly enrolled, they didn’t simply remove him, as they had done with 25 other students that year. They pushed for McDowell to be prosecuted on first-degree larceny charges–charges that carry up to a 20-year prison sentence.

Like the case of another single mother in Ohio prosecuted for sending her child to the wrong school district, McDowell’s case sparked national outrage. Most of the commentary focused on how this case exposed the massive educational disparities in our country.

And rightly so–the Bridgeport school system, where Norwalk officials insist McDowell’s son should have been sent, has a one-in-four high school dropout rate. The Bridgeport public schools spend around $8,000 per pupil each year. Tanya McDowell was charged with “stealing” $15,686 in educational services for her son–the amount Norwalk schools spend per pupil each year.

This begs the question of just who is stealing from whom?

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