Wharton Suggests Educational Neglect Statute

By Bill Dries

Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton Jr. is exploring the idea of a state law that would make it a crime for parents to neglect their children’s education. Wharton floated the idea during his State of the County speech Tuesday at the Memphis Rotary Club.

Wharton said later it is an idea he plans to pursue with state legislators and other elected leaders.

“We have got to take a revolutionary look at how we are dealing with and relating to our children,” Wharton said as he compared the idea to President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform drive of the 1990s that put a time period and a cap on welfare benefits. “We have no way – our law does not recognize a responsibility that’s punishable by some sanction if you don’t get involved in the educational progress of your child. You talk about neglect, I think that is the epitomy of neglect.”

Wharton said he decided to bring up the subject after a visit earlier in the day with a group of about 40 juvenile offenders in custody. One of the juveniles was the teenager involved in this month’s shooting and wounding of a student at Mitchell High School.

“Folks, they’re not living in the same world we’re living in. They don’t see things the way we see things. They don’t hear things the way we hear. They don’t feel the way we feel,” Wharton said. “They don’t cry the way we cry. They don’t hurt. It’s frightening.”

Wharton told reporters that he doubted a law mandating some level of parental involvement would result in prison cells filled with neglectful parents. He also talked of helping with incentives to allow parents to become more involved as well.