- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 6, 2004

As many as 263 students were illegally enrolled in the District’s 37 charter schools this year, costing the school system more than $1.8 million, according to an independent audit commissioned by the D.C. State Education Office.

“It’s a problem we’ve had for some time, and it needs to stop,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “We’re not going to educate kids from other jurisdictions with D.C. tax dollars.”

The Washington Times reported last month that city school officials catch about 55 students each year from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties illegally enrolled in D.C. schools. Public school officials in those counties said they catch many more illegally enrolled D.C. students in their schools.

D.C. public school officials say that each illegally enrolled student costs the city about an extra $7,000.

School board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz blamed Mr. Williams’ administration for making the city’s charter schools attractive to students from the suburbs.

“Mayor Williams has weakened the residency requirements to favor charter schools,” Mrs. Cafritz said. “I think illegal enrollment in charter schools [is] a much bigger problem than city students fleeing to the suburbs.”

She said the State Education Office, which reports to the mayor, weakened the residency requirement by allowing adults to submit “sworn statements” to prove they are a student’s primary caregiver.

“The District still checks residency every year, but the new requirements make it easier for people to slip through the cracks,” Mrs. Cafritz said. “Charter school officials in particular keep their mouths shut because they only benefit from larger enrollments.”

The city’s charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated, have experienced steady growth in enrollment over the past six years, while the District’s public schools have seen a steady decline in enrollment.

Charter schools are authorized by the D.C. school board and by the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

According to an independent audit by the accounting firm Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates commissioned by the State Education Office, enrollment at D.C. charter schools has grown from 3,632 students in the 1998-99 school year to 13,743 students in the 2003-2004 school year — an increase of 10,111 students.

Meanwhile, enrollment at D.C. public schools has fallen from 70,957 students in the 1998-99 school year to 61,653 students in the 2003-04 school year — a decline of 9,304 students, according to the audit.

The State Education Office oversees federal child-nutrition programs and creates school residency rules in addition to verifying the school system’s enrollment figures.

“I think we’re seeing a transfer of [public school] students to charter schools, which I think is a welcome trend,” said Mr. Bullock. “People are taking advantage of school-choice opportunities.”

School board member Tommy Wells said the city should penalize schools that fail to report illegally enrolled students.

“We need to punish principals and teachers for ignoring the law,” Mr. Wells said. “If a school doesn’t report students that the auditors catch, that school should suffer financially.”

D.C. school officials have disputed the State Education Office’s audit, saying they counted 65,099 students this school year, The Times reported last week. Federal education funding based on enrollment could be at stake because of the discrepancy.

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, has sought to take charge of the city’s troubled school system. He has sparred with the D.C. Council to get authority to hire and fire the superintendent and reduce the role of the school board to that of an advisory panel.

The school board consists of elected and appointed members, and the council has authorized it to become a fully elected panel again in 2008.

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