Tonya McDowell sent her son to an elementary school in Norwalk, Connecticut, instead of her home city of Bridgeport.
The 34-year-old, who was homeless when she was charged with felony larceny last year, said she wanted the best education possible for the boy.
McDowell last week entered her plea at Norwalk Superior Court under the Alford Doctrine, which means she does not admit guilt but concedes the state has enough evidence to convict her.
Authorities told the hearing that she used a babysitter’s address to enroll her son in kindergarten in Norwalk when he should have attended schools in Bridgeport, her last permanent address. Her case drew national attention and support from civil rights leaders and other advocates who wanted the charge dismissed.
McDowell told police she was living in a van and occasionally slept at a Norwalk shelter or a friend’s Bridgeport apartment when she enrolled her son Norwalk’s Brookside Elementary School.
Police said McDowell stole $15,686 worth of ‘free’ educational services from Norwalk.
She also pleaded guilty to four counts of sale of narcotics on February 7. The sentence from that case will be included in her overall prison sentence. McDowell’s lawyer, Darnell Crosland, said she agreed to accept a plea bargain rather than continue fighting the charges even though she insists she is not guilty.
Mr Crosland said: ‘You shouldn’t be arrested for stealing a free education. It’s just wrong.’
McDowell was sentenced to 12 years in jail, suspended after she serves five years, and five years probation.