A Philadelphia couple is facing felony charges after allegedly lying about where they lived in order to send their daughter to a school outside their district.
Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were charged in August of this year with "theft of services", a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison, by the Lower Moreland School District in Montgomery County.
The Garcias are accused of sending their daughter to the district even though they didn't pay property taxes, according to the District Attorney's office. The couple cost tax payers $10,752.81.
Thursday, civil rights activists along with lawmakers held a press conference saying the laws and the ways Pennsylvania public schools are funded are unfair.
“The District Attorney should go after real criminals and not put parents in prison facing up to seven years and be registered as felons because they allegedly stole a quality education,” said former California State Senator Gloria Romero.
Romero introduced the nation's first 'Parent trigger' law in 2008, which allows parents of a failing school district to vote on a method to restructure the school, mostly by transforming it into a charter school.
Meanwhile, the Garcias claim the entire case is a misunderstanding, “All we want is to pay the tuition and ask the DA please to drop the charges this should never have happened from the beginning, we always offered to pay,” said Hamlet Garcia during the press conference.
According to Bethlehem Area School Superintendent, Joseph Roy, stories like the Garcias' are a symptom of a much bigger matter.
“This issue of inequities and funding has been going on for years and there have been different efforts to try to adjust it but never to full satisfaction,” said Roy.
As for a solution, those involved like the Garcias' attorney Thomas Kenny said it's up to legislators, “I would very much like the laws in the commonwealth to change and I hope today is the start of that process happening,” he said.
“One suggestion is to just have the state contribute more to public education, take the burden off the local taxpayers, another is to create more regional districts so you have a balance of wealthy areas and poorer areas in areas where they're divided,” said Roy.
The Garicas have their formal arraignment Wednesday December 19th where a trial date will be set.