Residency Fraud A Problem in DC Public Schools

Residency fraud–where families who live outside of the District enroll their children in the city’s public schools using false information to avoid paying out-of-state tuition costs–is still a huge issue in D.C. public schools.

In February, officials from D.C. public schools and city public charter schools testified before a D.C. Council committee about the high number of residency fraud investigations in the 2012-2013 school year. DCPS initiated 59 investigations in its schools during that academic year. 22 students were found to be non-D.C. residents and 8 were D.C. residents.  Charter schools officials said its board started 48 investigations. A dozen students were found to be non-D.C. residents and four were D.C. residents.

Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy, a public charter school located in the Brookland area, had 18 investigations started involving residency fraud. According to a report from the Charter Schools, 6 students at the school were found to be non-D.C. residents, and 3 students were D.C. residents. There are still nine investigations ongoing.

Bethune’s principal, Linda McKay, commented to online news site Ward 5 Heartbeat that she “wasn’t aware of the problem” of the high number of investigations in her school. She also alluded to other schools having the same issues. On one recent school morning, a reporter outside Bethune Day Academy observed vehicles dropping off students. Six of the vehicles had Maryland license plates.

The D.C. Council passed a bill in January 2012 to increase the fines for violating the residency guidelines for attending city public schools. Around this time, the D.C. Public Charter School Board announced its decision to investigate residency fraud in its schools. Earlier, individual public charter schools were policing themselves on this matter.

The parent of a child who attends a D.C. school without paying out-of-state tuition agreed to be interviewed but did not want her name used. She said enrolling her child has been easy because “all it involves is using another person’s address. For example, I use the grandparent of my child, which makes it more believable that they reside in that household,” the parent said, who added that sometimes a city school offers a better program or better teachers and staff.

Theola Labbé-DeBose, the director of communications for the Public Charter School Board, did not respond to requests for an interview. But she told the Heartbeat  online news website that the investigations were not over and that parents could still appeal the decisions.

The current punishment for residency fraud is payment of tuition retroactively, a fine of $2,000 or imprisonment for 90 days.

If anyone has any information about a non-District resident attending D.C. public schools for free, he can call the Student Residency Fraud Prevention Hotline at (202) 727-7224. The hotline is confidential.