D.C. Public Schools lost over $500,000 in tuition collection by failing to verify the residency of enrolled students, according to an April 17 report by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General.
The 28-page report released by Inspector General Daniel Lucas concluded that DCPS and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the agency that oversees both private and public schools, lack the mechanisms necessary for verifying student residency. The report examined academic years 2014 to 2016.
In two-thirds of the residency fraud cases examined, the OSSE settled accounts for less than the tuition owed and remains ill-equipped to provide accurate records of these cases to auditors, according to the report. The audit revealed inadequate recordkeeping and lax enforcement of rules against fraudulent enrollment of students nonresident in school districts.
The District did not collect mandatory nonresident tuition in full prior to admitting nonresident students, according to the report. The value of the uncollected school fees totaled almost $170,000.
Eighty-two of 85 nonresident students included in the audit report were allowed to attend Washington, D.C. schools for free despite their parents not paying tuition.
“The District extended payment agreements for self-identified, non-resident students without obtaining required evidence that the students lacked a comparable educational program where they resided and suffered from severe, temporary financial problems,” the report stated.
The report also found that the OSSE did not adequately work with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General when designating cases as in violation of the False Claims Act, the primary litigation tool for combating fraud against the government.
The investigation comes in light of several scandals surrounding education within D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) administration. The administration has previously had to handle the resignation of former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who used his position and influence to enroll his daughter at a top-rated D.C. high school, bypassing a waitlist of more than 600 students.
The report recommended changes to the procedure and protocol of the OSSE and the DCPS to resolve ongoing issues and establish documentation requirements for proof of residency.
Lucas recommended disallowing nonresident students who have not paid tuition from attending D.C. Public Schools; that all fraud cases be referred to appropriate authorities including the Office of the Attorney General, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and the Office of the Inspector General; and that standard operating procedures be implemented to track all residency fraud allegations.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) co-introduced legislation with Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) to remedy the problems Lucas highlighted in his report.
The bill seeks to establish the District of Columbia Education Research Advisory Board and the District of Columbia Education Research Collaborative, an initiative that would audit the District’s school data and data collection policies in addition to conducting long-term education research.
The recently proposed legislation addressing the issue of residency fraud is not the first of its kind, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) said in an April 17 news release.
“Since I took over the chairmanship of the Education Committee in 2015, I have regularly pressed the Office of the State Superintendent of Education on its efforts to verify residency, identify fraud, and refer cases when necessary,” Grosso said. “I made investments through the annual budget process to provide OSSE additional resources to fulfill those responsibilities.”
Grosso identified the need to consider residency issues, such as homelessness and unstable family life that many District students face.
“While there are certainly cases of those defrauding the system, we must balance the need for rigorous enforcement with the need to provide educational opportunities to our most disadvantaged students,” Grosso said in the news release.