DC Government Chooses Maryland Kids Over Tax-Paying Residents For School Slots

Luke Rosiak And Kathryn Watson | Contributor

Washington, D.C. public and public charter school officials knowingly sign off on allowing Maryland students to attend schools tax-paying residents cannot get into because of lengthy wait-lists.

The school system has rules that allow out-of-state students to attend a District school if there is no waiting list for city residents and if the out-of-state parents agree to pay cash tuition for the otherwise-free schools. But students who are, according to the system’s own data, non-city residents are admitted to schools with long waiting lists anyway, and they’re not required to pay the tuition, The Daily Caller News Foundation found.

These students appear to be ripping off taxpayers with the full knowledge and blessing of local education officials. This is a separate and in some ways more troubling phenomenon than the cheating TheDCNF documented earlier in this series, in which Maryland residents lie about their addresses in order to steal slots at D.C. schools.

In 2015, 49 students from Maryland attended D.C. schools on a non-fraudulent basis, being open about where they lived, in exchange for D.C. charging them a combined $564,000 in tuition. But District officials collected less than half of that amount — $213,000 — according to a government audit.

The schools included Banneker, Basis Public Charter, Duke Ellington, School Without Walls High, Deal Middle, and Sela Public Charter.

Ellington has 525 students and 40 — nearly a tenth of the school — disclose they live in Maryland. Those students’ families owed a total of $463,200 in tuition, but local officials collected only $163,249, or 35 percent.

Deal has no slots for new students in the upcoming school year. Basis had a waiting list of 137 and Sela also had a waiting list last year. The others have a few slots that open each year, with fierce competition.

Uniforms, ID badges and public records indicate that a very high number of Maryland drivers observed by TheDCNF dropping off kids at D.C. schools collect a government paycheck, either from the federal or D.C. governments, making the theft of government resources all the more notable — and potentially explaining it.

Emails show the woman who was, until last month, chief of staff to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s deputy mayor for education intervened to stop the residency fraud office from throwing out Maryland children whose parents work for the District government.

In 2007, Jackie Pinckney-Hackett in the then-mayor’s office wrote to school official Resa Wynn: “I have received several phone calls from residents stating that last year they gave the Student Residence Office numerous Maryland tag numbers… nothing was done because the same cars are back.”

Wynn responded: “The children of the family you mentioned, (the Nelson family) were allowed to remain in DCPS despite being MD residents, per instructions from Margery Yeager of the Chancellor’s office… Ms. Yeager stated that the student’s elderly grandfather should have be allowed to be the student’s ‘Other Primary Caregiver’, because the parents reside in Maryland.”

“Is that normal? And I thought the children went home to MD everyday,” she was asked.

“No, it is not normal. The students are still Maryland residents, and so are the parents, both of whom are D.C. Government employees… It is unknown why the Chancellor’s Office made the decision they did.”

Yeager later went from being special assistant to the schools chancellor to being chief of staff to the deputy mayor for education under current mayor Bowser.

A longtime Capitol Hill resident and mother of D.C. public school students told the D.C. City Council in a November 2011 hearing she witnessed “many, many D.C. government workers, police officers, and even some teachers, who use their status as a D.C. government employee to cajole the school secretary into registering their child” at city schools to take advantage of pre-K and after-school care, which other jurisdictions don’t offer.

“It’s merely a convenient drop off point for them on the way to work,” she said at the time.

They often use a grandparent’s address even though the parents who live and pay taxes in Maryland almost certainly claim the children on their own tax forms to get a tax deduction or Earned Income Tax Credit payment.

The Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) refused to answer questions from TheDCNF.

The D.C. government has a long track record of turning a blind eye as city money fraudulently flows to Prince George’s County, Maryland. One reason for that may be the D.C. government is controlled by Maryland residents: 16,400 of the employees who run D.C. reside in Maryland — overwhelmingly in Prince George’s County. This us compared with the 15,800 who actually live in the city that employs them, according to information the D.C. government gave TheDCNF as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request. Only 3,600 live in Virginia.

The Maryland zip code where the most city employees live has a median household income of $95,000, far higher than the median household income of D.C. residents, which is $72,000. This refutes a claim frequently repeated by city employees that they should be paid more because they can’t afford to live in D.C.

Abuse of D.C. schools is not the only way that city dollars brazenly flow illegally to Prince George’s County.

When D.C. is selecting contractors to do business with, preference is given to companies that are based within city limits. But on contract applications, dozens of clearly Maryland-based businesses list D.C. addresses that turn out to be nothing but mailboxes.

Monica Ray, for example, uses city taxpayer money to run a nonprofit called the Congress Heights Community Training & Development Corp. out of a three-bedroom house in Southeast whose purpose is allegedly revitalizing the neighborhood. Instead, the house’s first floor is full of cubbies that she rents to contractors seeking preference on D.C. contracts. Millions of dollars have flowed to Maryland residents using Ray’s cubbies to establish “local” status.

Roughly 40 percent of contractors seeking preference points for being D.C.-based — coincidentally, the same percentage as Maryland license plates at many D.C. charter schools — list supposed headquarters that are actually shared addresses, like post offices. Many of the companies do construction and other industrial work that obviously couldn’t be done in a downtown office suite or cubby.

Seventeen contractors list the same two office suites — the location of a company that provides mail-receiving services–and all the owners who could be located live in Maryland.

Politicians in the city may even have an electoral reason not to anger Maryland fraudsters. Some 13,000 names are on the voter rolls in both Prince George’s County and D.C., even though D.C. receives a notification when they register in Maryland and is supposed to remove them, according to a 2013 investigation by The Washington Times.

Politicos in the eastern part of the District say it’s common for former D.C. residents to still vote there.

“It happens a lot,” Ward 7 activist Geraldine Washington told The Washington Times. “I know of people who still vote in their old address after they’ve moved [out of the District]. I mean years after. They do that a lot.”

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