Update: Jan. 30, 2014: On Jan. 29, Hamlet Garcia pleaded guilty to having knowingly provided false information when he and his wife, Olesia, enrolled their daughter in a school outside their district. The Garcias, who are forced to pay back nearly $11,000 worth of education, will not face jail time. This evening, America Tonight revisits the Garcias' story to see how far a family will go to give their children a better education. Tune in at 9 p.m. ET.
Explore the rest of our education series "Getting Schooled."
The statistics of Millburn High School would make the heart of any parent flutter: There is one teacher per 13 kids, 98 percent of students graduate, and 70 percent of juniors and seniors pass at least one Advanced Placement test. Millburn High consistently ranks as one of the top-performing schools in the country.
This is a public school, but the price of admission is steep. The average house in the tony township of Millburn, N.J., sells for $1.3 million, and the real estate taxes run about $20,000 a year. There’s no designated affordable housing in Millburn, and only 12 of Millburn High School’s 1,492 students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
If you live a few miles from Millburn, say, in Newark, N.J., you might go to Barringer High School, where just 52 percent of students graduate in four years and fewer than half the students are proficient in reading and math. Violence is routine. In October 2012, a student was stabbed to death in an after-school fight. Two years earlier, a student was sexually assaulted in an empty classroom.
“The way it works in New Jersey is you go to school within your ZIP code. It’s a ZIP code education system,” explained Laura Waters, president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County and author of the blog NJ Left Behind. “And the reason those kids go to Barringer is because that’s where their parents can afford to live.”
The state has charter schools and an interdistrict transfer program for fewer than 3 percent of students. But by and large in New Jersey, address is destiny. So some parents, desperate to improve their children’s opportunities, lie about their address, sneak past the border and steal a better education for their kids.