- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D.C. residents have told officials that for years they have seen cars with Maryland license plates pull up to their schools and drop off students.

“The question always is, ‘Why?’ ” council member Sekou Biddle said.

The at-large Democrat and former member of the State Board of Education said the issue resurfaced last month when five D.C. elementary school students were taken to the hospital because they had ingested cocaine.

The parents of the fourth-grader accused of bringing the drug to the school revealed during a court proceeding that they are not D.C. residents, a fact that complicates the drug investigation.

In response, council Chairman Kwame R. Brown on Tuesday introduced a bill that requires the general counsel of the Office of the State Superintendent for Education to lead investigations into student residency fraud and refers cases to the Office of the Attorney General for prosecution. It also establishes a hotline to report such fraud and increases the fine for violations from $500 to $2,000.

The legislation is supposed to crack down on a problem that has festered in the District for a variety of reasons, including documentation fraud, problems inherent to transient or homeless families or sudden shifts in a child’s caregiver status to a relative who lives in the District, officials said. They said anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the students illegally attending school are from Prince George’s County, and that some parents may enroll their children in a D.C. school because they work in the District.

Parents are supposed to provide tax forms, pay stubs or other documentation to prove the residency of children before enrolling them in D.C. schools. However, a 2008 report by the Office of the Inspector General found seven public schools did not have residency verification forms for 56 of their students.

Mr. Brown said it is difficult to estimate how many ineligible students are filling D.C. schools, simply because the documentation is incorrect or not on file.

Unauthorized students pose multiple problems. Resources do not necessarily rise with the inflated school population, and parents must be on record in order to address emergencies or cases of truancy, officials said.

Mr. Biddle’s office raised the issue in a March 25 letter to the deputy mayor for education, noting that the parents of the boy accused of bringing cocaine to Thomson Elementary School in Northwest live in Prince George’s County, based on news accounts of a D.C. Family Court hearing. A D.C. Public Schools investigator is looking into the boy’s residency and guardianship, according to the letter.

Mr. Biddle also asked the administration for statistics on how many students have been removed from public schools or charter schools for residency fraud, the fines imposed and an estimate of how many ineligible students are now attending D.C. schools.

“I am deeply concerned,” he told the deputy mayor, “that District tax dollars are being spent on a significant number of students that are not eligible to attend our schools.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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