- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2011

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown wants to find out why students from Maryland and Virginia are attending the District’s public schools illegally, forcing city taxpayers to subsidize their education and potentially robbing students of a “quality seat” in their own schools.

Mr. Brown has invited eight witnesses to a hearing before his Committee of the Whole on Thursday to talk about why parents in surrounding counties drop off their children in D.C. schools without paying tuition. His exploration into the issue is in support of a bill he introduced last spring to “give teeth” to enforcement of school residency laws by increasing fines and referring cases to the D.C. Office of the Attorney General.

“Let me be clear: This was brought to me by parents,” Mr. Brown said in an interview Wednesday.

Mr. Brown said it is “no secret” that Maryland and Virginia license plates pop up at D.C. schools in the morning. Sometimes, the students themselves freely admit they live outside the city, he said.

“This is nothing new,” Mr. Brown said.

Nor is the topic new to the D.C. region, after Montgomery and Prince George’s counties made considerable efforts in the late 1990s and in the past decade to investigate and verify the residency of its students, citing an influx of illegal aliens and out-of-county students.

Mr. Brown’s office said the D.C. legislation should not be construed as an exploration into any students’ legal status in the country, but rather whether they have established residency in the District.

Recent anecdotal evidence suggests that many of the students illegally attending D.C. schools are from Prince George’s County. Some parents may enroll their children in city schools because they work in the District, Mr. Brown said.

The problem has lingered 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.

“Sometimes the school system doesn’t want to be in the business of telling the children they cannot attend their school,” Mr. Brown said.

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 his bill is an attempt to preserve resources for D.C. students, and not to harm the out-of-state children caught in the middle.

“They can attend, but they would have to pay costs,” Mr. Brown said. “This is really about just assuring we have as many decent, quality seats for D.C. residents as we can.”

The issue was highlighted early this year, when the parents of a fourth-grader accused of bringing cocaine to a Northwest school revealed during a court proceeding that they are not D.C. residents.

Mr. Brown hopes witnesses from D.C. Public Schools, D.C. State Board of Education and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) can shed light on how many students might be attending city schools and how they are able to circumvent identity verification. State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley and John Davis, the instructional superintendent for DCPS, are among the listed witnesses.

Mr. Brown’s bill tasks OSSE with leading investigations into student-residency fraud to make referrals to the attorney general, establishes a hotline to report instances of fraud and increases the fine for violations from $500 to $2,000.

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

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