- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2018

D.C. Council member Vincent Gray says that D.C. Public Schools’ latest scandal, involving alleged enrollment fraud at The Duke Ellington School of the Arts, only adds to the school system’s woes in monitoring who is attending which schools.

“The Duke Ellington issue raises the question of whether or not the students attending our public schools live in D.C., and is another dimension of the attendance problem,” Mr. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat, told The Washington Times Wednesday evening. “I expect OSSE [Office of State Superintendent of Education] to thoroughly investigate and/or obtain outside investigators to look into the matter.”

Mr. Gray, a former mayor, was referring to a Wednesday report by The Washington Post that said a probe of Ellington’s records found about 100 students whose families had claimed city residency but actually live outside the District, avoiding the $12,000-a-year out-of-state tuition fee.

When an OSSE official was notified of the probe’s findings, the official suggested slowing the investigation to avoid tarnishing the re-election bid of Mayor Muriel Bowser, The Post reported.

Fred Lewis, a spokesman for the Office of State Superintendent of Education, denied Wednesday that any staff member had hindered the investigation.

“OSSE conducts robust residency investigations and would not alter the course of or timeline for its investigations regardless of the circumstance,” Mr. Lewis said in an email to The Times.

The Office of the D.C. Attorney General said it will investigate and try any cases of enrollment fraud.

“We take tuition fraud very seriously because it cheats both our students and our taxpayers,” a spokesperson told The Times Wednesday.

According to The Post report, the OSSE briefed the attorney general’s office about the enrollment fraud in December but failed to notify the D.C. Council, which has conducted several education oversight hearings during the past few weeks.

The office of interim schools Chancellor Amanda Alexander did not respond to repeated phone requests for comment Wednesday. Ms. Alexander was put in charge of D.C. schools last week after Antwan Wilson was forced to resign for transferring his daughter to a school outside her district in violation of a policy he had written himself.

“We cannot tackle the public education challenges D.C. faces when this administration continues to withhold public information from residents, the council and the Committee on Education,” council member David Grosso, at-large independent and education panel chairman, said Tuesday in a statement.

The enrollment fraud issue at Ellington and Mr. Wilson’s misstep follow reports from last year that about a third of Ballou High School’s seniors had not met requirements for grades and attendance before graduating. Instances of grade inflation were found to be widespread in the school system.

Political strategist Chuck Thies, who served as Mr. Gray’s mayoral campaign manager in 2014, said this third schools scandal may dim Miss Bowser’s hopes for re-election.

“This has people really upset,” Mr. Thies told The Times Wednesday. “Everyone who I know who has a kid in a high-performing school and drops their kid off looks at the cars queued off and maybe 15 to 20 percent have Maryland tags. This is something that the city hasn’t paid careful attention to.”

The OSSE told The Times that the enrollment investigation was a result of stricter verification procedures on parents’ residency documents for the 2017-2018 school year.

“In addition to auditors checking 100 percent of residency verification forms OSSE also increased the sample size for the review of supporting residency documentation from 10 percent to 20 percent of a school’s student body,” Mr. Lewis told The Times. “If a school fails 5 percent within that 20 percent sample, then a 100 percent audit is triggered.”

Requests for comment from the mayor’s office were not returned Wednesday.

“We have no interest in paying for students at our public schools that are not D.C. residents and that is why we have a very robust system of verification that we have made more robust over the last year,” Miss Bowser said Tuesday.

• Julia Airey can be reached at jairey@washingtontimes.com.

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