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Tear down that wall to
educational freedom - Susan Meyers

Tell me again why parents and their children shouldn't be able to use their own tax dollars to transfer to the public or private school of their choice?

· A Clayton County mother was convicted last week of a felony, along with her brother-in-law, a retired Atlanta police officer, for using her brother-in-law's address to enroll her teenage son in a Henry County high school. Tanja Hale was found guilty of making false statements for swearing she was a Henry resident to enroll her son at Luella High to get him a better education. Clayton County has been the subject of national attention as it became the first school system in 40 years this past fall to lose its accreditation. Since losing its accreditation, Clayton has lost about 3,500 pupils.

· Parents also have "illegally" enrolled their students in Fulton, Fayette and Douglas County school systems this academic year, according to officials in those school systems. Each year, children throughout the state "break the law" and enroll in schools they "don't belong in" by giving the address of a family member or friend to enroll in a high-achieving school or school district. Instead, their parents would rather have the option to transfer to a closer public or private school that meets their needs.

· After two decades of following public education as a journalist, then a legislative policy advisor, I have witnessed no return on the escalating taxpayer investment in public education. We've dropped from 41st to 49th in graduation rates since the Quality Basic Education Act was drafted in the mid-1980s, according to a new study by The Center for an Educated Georgia. We're still near the bottom, 47th, in SAT scores.

· In a school system, such as DeKalb County's, which is 89 percent minority and where 66 percent of students are on free and reduced lunches, parents have embraced transfer programs to move to better schools on the north side of the district since the 1980s. Don't tell me the poor can't make good choices for their children.

Just after the Berlin Wall fell in the early 1990s, I traveled to the Baltic States of the former Soviet Union and to East Berlin. Those first experiencing freedom didn't know how to make basic decisions, such as what job they wanted, if they cared to vote, or if they desired to express themselves publicly.

Government in a Soviet system would determine their occupation, where they would live and where they could travel. Only the privileged, the families of the Politburo, ever had an opportunity at a quality education.

Unfortunately, we in America have one have segment of society that fully resembles the USSR -- how we educate children. Only the fortunate, those who can afford a good address or the ability to pay for taxes and private school tuition, can send their child to the school of their choice.

Think about it. If we are willing to arrest, charge and fine parents, such as Tanja Hale, are we really all that different than the Communists in the former Soviet Union?

Like those who scratched and clawed to escape the jaws of the Eastern Bloc, this Clayton mom wanted a better life for her son and freedom for her family. But our government currently denies her.

With State Sen. Eric Johnson's proposal to give vouchers to Georgia children to transfer to any public or private school, there is hope. The Wall can come down. I say, Tear Down that Wall and give all Georgia children educational freedom and a better tomorrow.

Meyers, a former member of the editorial board of The Atlanta Journal, is a media relations consultant.