Tuition, transportation for special-ed students costs $65,000 a year

The District spent about $3 million to send 47 special education students who were not D.C. residents to private schools last year, school officials told The Washington Examiner.

The students faked D.C. addresses to take advantage of a federal law requiring the city to pay the private-school tuition of any student the city can't educate in its public schools. Although the law applies nationwide, D.C.'s troubled special education system means students are shipped out of the public schools at about six times the national rate.

Source: Office of the State Superintendent for Education

Crossing the line
Results of an investigation into residency fraud by the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education:
School type DC Public Schools Charter schools Private placement Total
Investigated 126 32 118 276
Nonresident not paying tuition 26 7 47 80

Between tuition and transportation -- school buses transport students to Baltimore and farther -- the average cost per student is $65,000 per year.

DC Public Schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz declined to comment on the results of the investigation beyond writing in an email that the school system will continue to work "to ensure we are providing high quality services to eligible families."

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which regulates DCPS and the city's public charter schools, started the investigation in May after the office was unable to verify the residency of 276 students: 126 in DCPS, 32 in charters and 118 placed in private schools by the city.

"Education is free, but not without cost," State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley said at the time, noting that "Maryland and Virginia residents attending public school in the District place an unfair burden on D.C. taxpayers."

The investigation revealed that 94 students -- 26 in DCPS, eight in charters and 60 in private placements -- were "non-verified." They were referred to the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Inspector General, which have been collecting tuition or kicking children out. Fourteen students -- 13 of whom were sent to private placements -- were verified by these agencies to be District residents or to be paying tuition, leaving 80 cases pending.

Students committing residency fraud were supposed to be paying the District nonresident tuition, which ranges from $9,124 to $12,226, but is often higher for those with extra needs, such as English-language learners.

In October, D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan filed a $31,294 civil suit against Jacinta Mason, a Hyattsville woman who fraudulently enrolled her child in a D.C. public high school for four years. Nathan also targeted D.C. charter school teacher Darnetta Paige in the suit for pretending to be the child's legal guardian while the girl lived with Mason in Maryland.

Last week, Wilson Senior High School's football team was booted from the Turkey Bowl after DCPS determined that a player actually lived in Prince George's County and was committing residency fraud.