Maryland Families Not Paying Required Tuition to Attend DC Schools, Audit Shows

Published August 16, 2016

Many families of Maryland students required to pay tuition to attend schools in Washington, DC have not done so, an investigation has found.

The Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF) reports DC Public Schools allows students from outside Washington, DC to attend its schools, provided “there are no waiting lists for city residents and if the out-of-state parents agree to pay cash tuition for the otherwise-free schools.” A 2015 audit shows DC officials collected less than half the tuition owed by the Maryland students.

“In 2015, 49 students from Maryland attended DC schools on a non-fraudulent basis, being open about where they lived, in exchange for DC charging them a combined $564,000 in tuition,” DCNF reported in July. “But District officials collected less than half of that amount—$213,000—according to a government audit.”

DCNF reports one reason Washington, DC city officials may not be enforcing the tuition rules is “16,400 of the employees who run D.C. reside in Maryland … compared with the 15,800 who actually live in the city that employs them.”

Nationwide Problem

Jennifer Wagner, vice president of communications for EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, says many parents are lying about their residency to avoid paying the nonresident tuition. For instance, in July, a Maryland couple was fined more than $500,000 for fraudulently using a Washington, DC address to send their children to city schools for years.

“Parents falsifying their address to enroll their children into a better school that meets their child’s learning needs is not confined to Washington, DC,” Wagner said. “It happens across the country, in all 50 states.”

Patrick Wolf, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, says some states have addressed nonresident attendance by adopting “inter-district choice” policies that permit students to attend district-run public schools outside of their residential boundary.

“The most extreme cases of inter-district choice involve Vermont and Maine, which permit families to send their children to public schools across the border in Canada, at public expense, if they so choose and the Canadian schools allow it,” Wolf said.

Averting Fraud with Choice

Wagner says school choice would give families access to the education they want without breaking the law. 

“The best measure Maryland and DC governments can take to ensure dollars spent on a child’s education are accounted through the state or district’s funding formula is school choice,” Wagner said. “Maryland, for example, could adopt a town-tuitioning policy, similar to Vermont and Maine. Town-tuitioning allows parents living in a town without public schools to be able to direct the public dollars allotted for their child’s education to a nonreligious private school of choice or neighboring public school, even across state lines.”

Wolf says school choice gives everyone a fighting chance to attain a quality education. 

“Formal school choice policies are a possible solution to the problem of parents using subterfuge to gain access to the public schools they most prefer,” Wolf said. “Without school choice, only the parents who are willing to lie and cheat and who have powerful allies in the political establishment get to access quality public schools that are outside their residential district. 

“School choice levels the playing field and permits all parents to select from among a variety of public, or even sometimes private, schools to find the one that best suits their child’s needs,” Wolf said. “Sometimes, that school will be their neighborhood district-run public school. Sometimes, it will be a district-run school in another neighborhood or a magnet or public charter school.”

Tori Hart ([email protected]) is a government relations intern at The Heartland Institute.