Education

DC Officials Throw Bus Ads At Rampant School Fraud

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter
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District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) leaders are spending the hottest month of the summer vacation encouraging residents to share information they have about out-of-state students who are fraudulently enrolled in local primary and secondary education institutions.

Metro buses around the city sport ads highlighting that residency fraud is a crime, and how important it is that people call in tips to local authorities. At least 11 percent of D.C. public and charter schools’ 37,000 students live outside of D.C., according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation.

But some may wonder if the campaign will succeed, since local public schools aren’t in session, and the city has shown little interest in pursuing tips in the past. The tips solicited involve parents observing kids being picked up from D.C. schools by Maryland parents, and reporting the kids’ and parents’ names, license plates and false addresses.

The problem is so widespread and evident that the school system has more kids in it than even live in D.C. School investigators caught only one person last year. They fielded tips “every day” from parents telling them how to find Maryland residents stealing resources, but investigators didn’t take action based on any of those tips except the one, and didn’t generate any proactively.

Jessie Harteis, deputy chief of staff for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, told TheDCNF Wednesday that “from August 2015 to August 2016, we had ads running inside buses, and starting in August 2016 we launched ads on the outside as well. Now is an important time to build awareness because families are enrolling students for the 2016-17 school year. The annual campaign costs approximately $120.000 and is paid for by funds specifically allocated for residency.”

While the outside-the-bus campaign is likely to raise awareness and provide a deterrent during registration, last year’s inside-the-bus campaign made less sense, since virtually all cheaters drive from Maryland and don’t ride a bus with their child.

In addition, during a month of observation at fraud-plagued D.C. charter schools, TheDCNF saw very few parents — including legitimate D.C. residents — arriving or leaving a campus on a Metro bus.

Most appeared to own vehicles and pick their kids up in them, likely on their drive home from work. The charter schools draw kids from all over the city, so most don’t walk, and D.C. doesn’t have school buses, except for special ed.

A test of whether officials are serious about stopping residency fraud, or merely using ad campaigns to give the impression that they are, will come in September when it will be seen whether the son of Lisa Weddington starts fourth grade at KIPP Promise Academy, and the daughter of Keisha Walton resumes at Excel Academy.

Weddington acknowledged living in Maryland, and TheDCNF has video of her driving from her home there to the school in D.C. Walton is on the board of trustees at Excel, and TheDCNF also has video of her spending her nights in Maryland with her child and the child’s father. Both women work for the federal government.

TheDCNF offered the evidence to the school system, but officials didn’t acknowledge the offer. TheDCNF investigation found that local residents often don’t report residency fraud because they believe nothing will happen to the offender.

Harteis, the DCPS spokeswoman, who lives in Montgomery County, Md., did not respond to TheDCNF’s inquiry about the two families.

 

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