- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The District needs to tighten its rules on school residency as nonresidents bilk the system and the system milks taxpayers.

Several years back, what was then called the U.S. General Accounting Office discovered that more than half of the 77,111 students in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) had “incomplete information as it related to either residency-verification forms, proof of residency or both” for school year 1997-98.

At the time, DCPS lousy national reputation almost made the discovery laughable.

Then, a 2008 report by the D.C. Office of the Inspector General found that seven public schools didn’t have residency-verification forms for 56 of their students.

To borrow from a popular beer ad, here we go.

While DCPS has barely inched its students up from the bottom rungs of the academic ladder, parents are still illegally enrolling their kids in DCPS and getting away with it.

Who would do such a thing, you ask?

Parents who want the convenience of working in the city and having their kids nearby.

Parents who want to avail themselves of two free rides: Kids in DCPS and income-tax dollars that remain in Maryland and Virginia.

Nonresident dropouts and truants who can get a free ride in night school and other alternative programs.

Parents who skim the city’s coffers to take advantage of Mayor Vincent C. Grays free baby-sitting - er, expanded preschool policy.

Anecdotally speaking, there also are parents of special-education students who game the system, too.

Fraud is the problem, and on Tuesday, one of my colleagues, Tom Howell Jr., reported on a new revelation - the parents of a fourth-grader accused of bringing cocaine to a D.C. school are not D.C. residents - and a potential fix.

“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,” Tom reported. “It also establishes a hotline to report such fraud and increases the fine for violations from $500 to $2,000.”

That takes care of the back end, punishing perpetrators after the fact. But what about prevention?

D.C. officials don’t get it, and there’s little incentive for them to do so, because the higher the enrollment numbers, the more dollars they get.

All an adult has to do to enroll a child is shuffle into a school with a few pieces of paper that have a D.C. address on them. One could be a months-old utility bill, and another could be a year-old verification of welfare benefits.

Notice whats missing?

A government photo ID.

In other words, people don’t even have to prove they are who they say they are or whether they are legitimate immigrants.

So grab a kid, any kid, and enroll him or her in DCPS.

Expectations from D.C. officials rest on a low threshold - just don’t expect too much, academically.

Also on Tuesday, D.C. Council member David A. Catania continued his somewhat scary politics by introducing a bill whose premise is babies are born with mental defects.

Guess he thinks God makes mistakes.

Not only that, but the bill reeks of government overreach.

Noting the legislation would establish the nations most comprehensive and sophisticated youth mental-health screening system, Mr. Catania also pointed out the city’s embarrassingly high rate of truancy “can be a gateway to juvenile crime and other high-risk behavior.”

For trying to stem the latter, he is to be commended.

But please, Dear Stakeholders, dont be fooled about mandatory mental-health screenings and Big Brother data-gathering and benchmarks, which are part and parcel of the ungodly motives underscoring the misnamed South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act of 2001.

Recall, Mr. Catania and his liberal colleagues titled the gay-marriage bill the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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