Outsiders in Balto. Co. schools decline Fewer students use fake addresses to attend class illegally

Result is less crowding

Educators credit stricter checks, tough state law

November 23, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The number of students using fake addresses to attend Baltimore County schools has been cut substantially this fall by stricter address checks and a tough new state law that includes financial penalties, school officials say.

"Our enrollment was about 1,000 lower than projected, and half, if not more, of that is attributable to the new legislation," said Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione. "We're very pleased."

The decline is good news for Baltimore County officials, who last year estimated that at least 2,000 students were attending county schools under false addresses, sapping local resources and adding to crowded conditions at some schools near the city line.

"It will help all of the students of Baltimore County to crack down on this problem," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who was told of the apparent reduction at a meeting with county educators and school board members this week.

Most area suburban districts suspect that some students use fake addresses to attend schools with lower rates of poverty, more resources and higher test scores.

The problem is believed to be the most severe in Baltimore County, where a large number of students is regularly seen riding buses from the city into the county.

School and county officials say that increases crowding and diverts money to educate children who don't live in the county. Baltimore County schools will spend about $6,000 per pupil this year, including about $4,100 per pupil in county funds.

During the spring, in a move prompted by Baltimore County legislators, the General Assembly approved a bill to toughen the requirement that children attend public school in the locality in which they live with their parents or guardians.

The new law lets school districts collect financial penalties in the form of back tuition from parents whose children illegally attend schools outside their districts. Depending upon a child's grade, the penalty in Baltimore County could be more than $4,300. Costs rise with the grade level.

This year, 105,520 students were enrolled in Baltimore County schools Sept. 30, the date considered official for the 1997-1998 school year. While that represents an increase of 1,038 students -- or about 1 percent -- over 1996-1997, it is about 1,000 fewer students than school officials had projected.

School officials say they have little hard evidence of a decline in out-of-county students illegally attending Baltimore County classes. But they say they have no other explanation for such a large difference between projections and actual enrollment.

"We believe there's a connection," said schools spokesman Donald I. Mohler. "It's not just greater enforcement, but also heightened awareness about the issue.

"Parents are realizing, 'They're really checking records in Baltimore County, so I'm not going to try to sneak my child in.' "

Del. Thomas E. Dewberry, a Catonsville Democrat who was co-sponsor of the bill imposing penalties, said he also has a sense that the problem is easing.

"Every year, I would hear concerns from parents who said they knew there were children attending the school who didn't live in the county, but so far this year I haven't heard anything," he said. "If it's true that the number of students coming over from the city is down, then that's a tremendous cost-saving to the system.

"Those resources can be put back into the classroom for the students who live in the county, and it will help keep classrooms smaller."

Baltimore County school officials also have taken steps to crack down on students who use fake addresses, acting after a task force studied the problem.

Last winter, school officials standardized the procedure to verify where students live when they enroll in Baltimore County schools. The biggest change was taking the responsibility for checking students' addresses from principals and giving it to pupil personnel workers who are assigned to investigate residency.

"With 159 principals there's bound to be inconsistent enforcement, and now we have consistency across the system," Mohler said. "We also no longer have a principal's first interaction with a new family to be to investigate where they live. It's a more positive entrance into a school."

The schools do not know how many students have been turned away this year because of inadequate proof of residency, Mohler said. But officials believe the new law has deterred many families from trying to enroll illegally.

Mohler said that even with stricter enforcement, schools permit students to enroll if they are considered "hardship" cases. For example, a child might be living with relatives because his or her parents are incarcerated, or might be living in the county under court order to escape abusive parents.

"The goal is not to keep out students who live in Baltimore County and belong in our schools," Mohler said. "The goal is to ensure that the resources of the Baltimore County taxpayers go to educate the children of the county."

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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