Dear DC Community,
I know that the integrity of the residency of students enrolled in DC schools is deeply important to all of us and that recent media coverage has raised concerns and questions about this issue. I am writing to share information about OSSE’s role in residency and enrollment and what we can and will do to ensure that residency verification process is handled with the utmost integrity.
OSSE’s Role in Residency Verification for Public Schools
First, let me provide context about OSSE’s role in the residency verification of our students in DC Public Schools (DCPS) and DC public charter schools. It is the responsibility of each school and local education agency (LEA) to collect accurate documentation to verify residency of students at the time of enrollment. OSSE, as the state education agency for the District of Columbia, supports and oversees residency in these three ways:
- Training & Tools for Residency Verification: When students enroll in school at the start the school year, their parents submit a robust set of information to the school proving that they are DC residents. If they are not DC residents, families must pay tuition. To support schools in serving families, OSSE provides training, guidance and residency verification forms for school and LEA staff, and handles tuition payments.
- Audit of Student Files at Schools: Each year, OSSE conducts an enrollment audit of our public schools (both DCPS and public charter schools). The purpose of the enrollment audit is to verify the number of students enrolled in public schools. That data is used primarily to support the school funding process. At the same time as our annual enrollment audit, we review residency verification at each school. We look at all residency verification forms at each school and a sample of the full student files, including the supporting documentation.
- Residency Fraud Investigations: OSSE learns of residency fraud in two ways – either through the residency verification reviews during the annual enrollment audit season, or via direct tips from our tip line. OSSE investigates tips of fraud and takes action with families who are not compliant with the law.
A New, More Rigorous Residency Fraud Platform
In response to feedback from the community, OSSE has increased its efforts dedicated to identifying residency fraud. This school year, OSSE assumed full responsibility for residency fraud investigations for both DCPS and charter schools. In the past, DCPS investigations were conducted by DCPS. Additionally, we instituted more rigorous policies for auditing residency at the school level. Not only do we review 100 percent of student residency verification forms, we have changed our policy to lower the threshold to trigger a full review of the documents families submitted to prove residency. For schools that fail our sample review, we automatically initiate a residency file review on all students attending those schools.
We expected our increased diligence would lead to the discovery of more instances of potential residency fraud – and it has. Our detailed residency verification process during the enrollment audit has determined that a number of families have insufficient residency paperwork on file at their schools. These families will receive a letter in the coming weeks that will require them to either submit sufficient proof of residency or face penalties and withdrawal of their student from the school. In some instances, we refer cases to the Office of the Attorney General, which may pursue prosecution under the False Claims Act.
I know there has been particular interest in our audit of Duke Ellington School of the Arts. At the conclusion of our annual enrollment audit, it was determined that a further investigation of all student residency verification records at the school was required. This investigation is ongoing. We expect it to be complete by the end of April, at which time we will determine what next steps are appropriate.
As Mayor Bowser has stated, we are committed to ensuring that DC residents have access to DC’s public schools. My team and I are intensely focused on ensuring that that happens. Currently, we are:
- Launching part two of a sweeping public awareness campaign to increase awareness about DC’s student residency fraud prevention hotline. Marketed on Metro buses and in rail stations to maximize reach, the hotline enables constituents to make anonymous and confidential reports about potential instances of residency fraud.
- Supporting the school-based 2018-19 school year enrollment process by providing LEAs and schools with tools, training, and guidance. Recently, OSSE launched a new approach for enrollment and residency support to LEAs and schools. As part of these changes, OSSE has updated residency policies, forms, and documentation for LEAs, kicked off a series of updated residency verification trainings, and implemented an updated enrollment audit process to provide high-quality and actionable enrollment data in a more timely and transparent manner.
I ask that as we continue in this work, if you see something, please say something by calling our tip hotline at (202) 719-6500.
I recognize our collective and shared desire as a city to ensure our students get the high-quality and equitable education they deserve. We will continue to work with urgency and focus to improve our work, uphold the trust that is placed in us to administer critical services at the highest possible levels, and work with urgency to improve outcomes for all of our students and families.
DC State Superintendent of Education