Education as Property

In 2014, a Latino family living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania conceded in a plea bargain that they had illegally enrolled their daughter in a suburban Philadelphia school district by faking residency. Risa Vetri Ferman, a suburban-Philadelphia district attorney, had previously concluded that the family “essentially stole from every hard-working taxpayer who resides within the Lower Moreland School District.” As a result, Ferman pursued charges against the Garcias, seeking that they reimburse the district for the cost of educating their daughter and serve jail time for their transgression.

Ferman is not alone. School districts and district attorneys across the country have pursued criminal or civil penalties against parents for enrolling their children in a school district in which neither the child nor parent resides. The concept that education can be stolen by outsiders brings together multiple strains of law—criminal, education, local government, and property—to allow private parties to think of public, geographically bound resources as their private property that deserves law enforcement protection. In this Article, I engage not with the fact that parents are illegally enrolling their children in school districts in which they do not reside, but with the notion that accusing a family engaged in this behavior of “stealing” allows the accusers to claim education as private. The end result is a regime of surveillance, discipline, and punishment that reproduces race and class stratification.