A review by D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education found more than a quarter of the students at one of the region’s most sought-after public schools live outside the District but aren’t paying tuition.
Students don’t have to be residents of D.C. to go to D.C.’s public schools, but those who aren’t are supposed to pay tuition, which runs about $10,000 to $12,000.
Many parents pay it, but hundreds of families now stand accused of cheating the system.
Earlier this year, a routine audit raised red flags about the number of students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts who are not D.C. residents but claim they are. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered a more extensive internal investigation.
“We take this very seriously,” she said. “That’s why we amped up our audit function.”
The investigation found of the 570 students at Ellington, 164 could not prove their D.C. residency. Another 46 non-residents pay the tuition.
This is most students ever enrolled illegally at a single school in the District.
"Duke Ellington officials will be thoroughly reviewing and considering the OSSE report, as we have indicated," read a statement from the school's chief executive officer. "To date, we have been focused on increasing training, outreach to parents and possible additional support, in addition to increased reliance on OSSE auditing. At this point we have no indication of any wrongdoing by our small, but dedicated administrative team."
Another 111 students at 50 other D.C. schools were also found to be falsifying their records, so a total of 275 students have been referred to the D.C. attorney general for prosecution. Another 56 could be referred to the attorney general as evidence of their actual residence is inconclusive and they remain under investigation.
“If you have children in D.C. schools and you’re not a D.C. resident, now’s the time to do the right thing: Get those children out of school, contact our office and make amends,” Attorney General Karl Racine said.
“There are students who don’t get to attend schools like Duke Ellington, and they should make D.C. students a priority,” Ballou High School junior Andrenae Brown said.
Families found guilty of tuition fraud not only have to repay the school costs but also penalties that can be three times the tuition.
A married couple who are D.C. police officers had three children in D.C. schools for 10 years was ordered to pay $223,568 in back tuition plus $315,898 in fines. Now, 25 percent of every paycheck is garnished.
“They’re going to be prosecuted, and we’re going to go after them for the money,” Racine said.
The 275 cases referred to the attorney general for civil action also were referred to the D.C. inspector general, who will look at the possibility school staff were complicit and whether any criminal laws were violated.
Officials said students currently enrolled illegally in public schools will be allowed to finish this school year, then will only be allowed to return once their prosecution has been resolved and they have entered into a payment plan.