What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America

Earlier this year, a number of wealthy parents, celebrities, and college prep coaches were accused of offering large bribes to elite universities in order to get their children into schools they didn’t qualify for.

Federal prosecutors charged at least 50 people in the criminal investigation named “Operation Varsity Blues.”

Among those charged was actress Felicity Huffman, who was recently sentenced to 14 days in prison after pleading guilty to fraud. In Huffman’s case, she’d paid $15,000 to have someone cheat on an SAT exam for her daughter.

Many parents want a better education for their child — and higher education, after all, has long been considered a path to the American dream. But Huffman’s case shows an obvious bias in the system toward people who achieved it long ago.

Her light sentence is being compared to the five years given to Tanya McDowell, a homeless Bridgeport, Connecticut mom who was arrested and charged after enrolling her young son in a school in a neighboring public school district that posted better test scores.

For many low-income families, the promise of education providing a pathway out of poverty is slipping further out of reach. Many are mired in underfunded public schools with few resources to provide a quality education.

It’s no surprise that many of these communities are also home to people of color. A new report released earlier this year found that nonwhite school districts get $23 billion less than white districts, despite serving about the same number of students.

As someone who grew up in a low-income household and attended public schools, I’m a product of that system. Each morning, my high school welcomed me with metal detectors and police officers.

I was one of the very few lucky students that beat the odds, graduated, and made it through college. Most don’t.

These disparities force parents from low-income backgrounds and communities of color to take risks — like using the addresses of friends or family members to get their kids into better school systems. “I would still do it all over again,” said McDowell after serving her time. “My son exceeded all of my expectations” in the better district, she said.

On the other hand, for parents like Huffman — who have access to a plethora of economic and social resources already — bribing colleges and universities to secure a slot for her children isn’t a means of survival. It’s an abuse of power and privilege.

Varsity Blues has been deemed the largest college admissions scandal in U.S. history. For sure, it highlights how the inherited advantages of our country’s wealthiest people have shaped our education system. Even more than that, though, it’s part of the bigger scandal that so many more have so much less.

As wealth continues to concentrate at the top, the extremely wealthy are using it shut out students who are already hundreds of steps behind on the road to success — all to give the already affluent another boost along the way.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Elliot Sperber
Class War is Chemical War
December 05, 2019
Colin Todhunter
Don’t Look, Don’t See: Time for Honest Media Reporting on Impacts of Pesticides
Nick Pemberton
Gen Z and Free Speech
Bob Lord
The U-Turn That Made America Staggeringly Unequal
Josh White
The Most Important Election in British History
Daniel Warner
The Hillsborough Soccer Tragedy: Who is Responsible?
Dean Baker
The Big Deal in Warren’s Prescription Drug Plan
George Ochenski
Another Utility Disaster Headed Our Way
Binoy Kampmark
Spying on Assange: the Spanish Case Takes a Turn
Victor Grossman
Big Rallies and Big Differences in Germany
L. Ali Khan
A Playboy Misrules Pakistan
William J. Astore
How American Exceptionalism is Killing the Planet
Susie Day
The Mad Activist Impeaches Western Culture
Andrés Castro
Look Out for the Drift
December 04, 2019
Jefferson Morley
RIP Fred Hampton: a Black Visionary Assassinated by the FBI
Vijay Prashad
Wealthy Countries’ Approach to Climate Change Condemns Hundreds of Millions of People to Suffer
Kenneth Surin
The Tory Election “Campaign” to Date
Maria Paez Victor
Indians Shall Not Govern
Peter Lackowski
Bolivia’s Five Hundred-Year Rebellion
Dave Lindorff
Billionaire Entitlement Run Amok: the Case of Michael Bloomberg
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Is Corbyn for Christmas Just Another Stove Pipe-Dream?
Howard Lisnoff
Elizabeth Warren: Savior of a Fallen System?
Robert Fisk
The Remembrance Poppy is Becoming a Weapon Against Immigrants to Canada
Dean Baker
NAFTA was About Redistributing Wealth Upwards
Richard Greeman
French Unions and Yellow Vests Converge, Launch General Strike
Binoy Kampmark
Legitimised Surveillance: Kim Dotcom’s Case Against GCSB
Walter Clemens
Goodbye Law and Morality, Welcome Pretend Tough!
Sam Pizzigati
Football Without Billionaires? Why Not?
Anthony Giattino
Royal Forests of America
December 03, 2019
Richard Lachmann
Can the US Get Out of Its Endless Wars?
Ramzy Baroud
Israel’s Unfinished ‘Coup’
David Rosen
The Dialectics of Postmodern Sexual Identity
Robert Fisk
Reporting Syria: I Talked to Everyone, Except Assad
Patrick Cockburn
Why the Resignation of Iraq’s Prime Minister May Not Stop the Mass Uprising on the Horizon
Norman Solomon
For Corporate Media, It’s ‘Anybody But Sanders or Warren’
Bob Scofield
Uruguay Turns to the Right
Joe Emersberger
Talking About Ecuador’s Political Prisoners: an Interview With Marcela Aguiñaga
Medea Benjamin
Trump Was Right: NATO Should Be Obsolete
Nyla Ali Khan
Lesson in Diplomacy for India’s Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty
William Gudal
The Bubble Machine
Gaither Stewart
Dirty Hands
Peter Certo
End the Wars, Win the Antiwar Vote
Binoy Kampmark
The Liveris Formula: Dow’s Inclusive Capitalism
Dan Bacher
California Freezes New Fracking Permits – But All Oil Drilling Permits Still Outpace 2018
Kay Sather
Can’t Get No Satisfaction?