District of Columbia public and charter elementary schools have more students attending classes than the federal city’s entire population of such school-aged kids, indicating a fraud rate of at least 11 percent.
Mathematically, that is the minimum portion of elementary schoolers who must be non-D.C. residents, but whose parents are freeloading off taxpayers to take advantage of the District of Columbia Public Schools’ extended hours, after-school care and proximity to employers.
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The District’s public and taxpayer-funded charter schools had 36,785 students in kindergarten through 5th grade in 2014 — slightly more than the city’s population aged five to 10, which was estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau at 36,770.
The gap of 15 students could be explained by the Census estimate’s margin of error or through special cases — except for the fact not every child in D.C. attends its public schools is considered. Children from wealthy D.C. families often go to private schools, for example.
The Census Bureau estimated that 4,139 children aged five to nine were in private schools in 2014 — meaning that in those six grades alone, the public school system had 4,154 more students enrolled than the total population of those that age.
The discrepancy is understated by those figures because they don’t include the District’s home-schooled students, or 10-year-olds in private school, since the Census Bureau’s private school estimate doesn’t break out that age group.
The figures conjure the old jokes about voter fraud in which a candidate receives more than 100 percent of the vote.
They indicate that more than 11 percent of the K-5 population likely is from out of state. The school system spends $30,000 per kid annually, meaning those 4,154 cheaters alone cost $125 million per year. D.C. offers fifteen years of education, so if the fraud rate is similar in other grades, the cost would be a third of a billion dollars per year.
Federal taxpayers have a stake in the problem, too, because the central government’s annual per capita spending on D.C. is more than $16,000, compared to Alaska, which receives the second-highest amount of nearly $5,000, according to the Census Bureau. Education programs make up 11 percent of all federal aid to state and local governments, but the District’s overall spending figure is higher because it is the nation’s capital.
Though Census figures are not exact in non-decennial years, numbers from 2010 — when the Census Bureau sent mailers and knocked on doors to count every man, woman and child, as required by the U.S. Constitution — show the same story.
There were 30,667 kids in K-5 in D.C. public and charter schools in 2010. The Census’ exact count found 31,173 kids aged five to 10 living at city homes.
The number of students in public schools was only 506 less than the number of kids in the city. Yet the Census that year has 4,542 kids aged five to nine in private schools (the Census provides that figure as an estimate with a margin of error of 1,391, since school questions are only asked of some respondents).
So there were 4,036 more kids in D.C. public elementary schools than there were available D.C. residents. In other words, the elementary schools (not counting pre-K) were 13 percent bigger than they should have been in the absence of fraud or other strange circumstances. (As with 2014, the discrepancy is actually larger since the private school stat doesn’t include 10-year-olds or home schoolers.)
Spokesmen for the D.C. schools superintendent and the school system offered no explanation for the major discrepancy in the bottom-line enrollment numbers.
Eligibility for D.C. schools is based on a simple criteria: The child must be a D.C. resident.
The Census’ methodology is instructive because it is based on who lives at a specific address. Census staff sends mail and makes personal visits to every household, and would count Maryland kids at the location where they sleep.
TheDCNF reported in a two-week series earlier in July the extent to which children of Maryland residents are taking slots at taxpayer-funded D.C. schools with waiting lists hundreds of names long. (The series’ installments are listed at the bottom of this article.)
One of the most-read stories in the series was based on a confession by a former PTA board member; another mother and member of a local public charter school board of trustees denied living in Maryland despite four days of video surveillance showing otherwise.
Cheaters, who the series found are often middle- to upper-middle-class government employees, sometimes claim that aunts, grandparents or friends periodically help “raise” the kid, or that that the whole family occasionally “stays” somewhere in D.C. despite having a home in Maryland.
They use the terms in vague ways that obscure the reality that not only is the child not the legal dependent of those other relatives, but he doesn’t live at a D.C. address.
The discrepancy between the Census Bureau and school enrollment figures also may understate the fraud rate because it doesn’t look at 3- and 4-year-olds — even though a primary driver of fraud is D.C.’s offering of free pre-K. This attracts fraudsters whose local school systems don’t offer free pre-K and who are seeking to avoid paying $20,000 a year for private daycare.
School officials could use computer databases to check eligibility when enrolling students, utilizing computer programs that link with the city’s tax office to see if the child is claimed as a dependent by someone paying taxes to the city or filing annual taxes to collect the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
The EITC is a refundable tax credit to individuals and couples based on their income and the number of children they claim. Low-income children are also likely to be in city databases showing government aid.