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Local: Education

D.C. Council targets school enrollment fraud

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Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner
Ten students attending D.C. Public Schools list the same address as their home.

A PTA president in Ward 2 drops her kids off in a BMW with Maryland plates.

In Ward 8, schools turn the other cheek when they discover that students from the suburbs are using fraudulent addresses to attend D.C. Public Schools for free -- the schools are underenrolled, and funding is based on head count.

Those are just a few of the problems described at a D.C. Council hearing Thursday as government and school officials try to get a grasp on how many students are fraudulently attending D.C. schools, a problem first reported by The Washington Examiner. Of 193 DCPS students investigated for using false addresses to attend city schools last year, 83 were determined to be nonresidents.

Fraud caught in D.C.
2010-2011, D.C. Public Schools and charters
Grades where fraud was found:
High school54%
Middle schools12%
Elementary schools11%
Early childhood12%
Adults10%
Undetermined1%

As of April, nonresident tuition -- which can reach $12,227 -- had not been collected in three years from suburban parents caught illegally enrolling their children. In the 2009-2010 school year, 53 students were assessed tuition, but none paid.

And though anyone caught gets fined $500, DCPS and charter officials said they never collect it -- and shouldn't have to, as educators.

"If people think they can send their kids to schools and there's no consequence for it, then they're just going to send them," said Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who introduced legislation in April to streamline the investigations under the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and increase the fine from $500 to $2,000 with better enforcement.

"The reality is there's no incentive for schools to pursue potentially fraudulent activity because it could be a potentital reduction in their enrollment funding," he said.

Most D.C. schools don't have strong academic records pushing parents to commit fraud. Rather, the schools are convenient for suburban parents who work in D.C.

Gina Arlotto, a Ward 6 parent of three, said she has observed government officials pressuring school staff to accept their work addresses.

She spoke of parents who let their nannies use their addresses to enroll their own children at Peabody, a popular Capitol Hill elementary, as a work "incentive."

Mary Lord, the Ward 2 member of the State Board of Education, said that when she walks her dog in the morning, not only does she see the PTA mom in the BMW, but about two of every three cars have Maryland plates. "Are we in fact asking for the strongest information [proving residency] possible?" she asked, adding that the District's free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds is a powerful draw to cash-strapped suburban parents. "We might as well paint a big bull's-eye on ourselves -- 'Hey, cheat us.' "

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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