Families who lie to get their kids into elite Chicago public schools face minimal penalties. This is one of the main contentions of CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler’s 2015 report, released Monday.
The report cites more than a dozen cases of families using false city addresses to gain access to selective schools this year. Some were found to live in suburbs — including a Des Plaines family with a student at Walter Payton College Prep and an Elmwood Park family with a student at Whitney Young Magnet. This violates requirements that all CPS students — with rare exceptions — live in the city.
Others who did live in the city gave fake addresses, saying they resided in low-income neighborhoods to gain easier admission to selective enrollment schools. One family who lived in Beverly, for example, claimed an address in Englewood. One North Center family gave an address in Bronzeville.
Enrollment shenanigans at CPS aren’t new. What made this investigation novel was its look at the outcomes of these fraud discoveries. Schuler’s team found that, in about half the fraud cases, the students who had been kicked out were allowed to re-enroll in that or another CPS selective school soon after.
“The Board of Education has, in the past, allowed certain students to remain in school and graduate despite clear cut evidence that enrollment or admissions fraud had occurred,” Schuler writes in the report.
Schuler says he thinks this makes it too tempting for families to try to fake their addresses.
“People are doing this with little fear of getting caught,” he said. “So, in our view, the simplest way to solve that is to put in place a clear robust policy stating, upfront, what the penalties are going to be so that the families known what happens when they get caught.”
Schuler suggests that fraudulently enrolled students be banned from selective enrollment schools for four years. He also proposes $10,000 to $25,000 penalties for each year a student was fraudulently enrolled — and not just for those who live in the suburbs.
“We think there should be an upfront penalty that applies to all these cases, regardless of whether they’re tier fraud [giving a false address in a lower income area] or suburban residency cases,” Schuler said.
For its part, CPS said in a statement that it “welcomes the annual recommendations of the Inspector General. Taxpayers and parents deserve accountability at every level – which is why the District began top-to-bottom audits under the leadership of new CEO Forrest Claypool, sharing relevant findings with the Inspector General. We are working and will work to address the findings of this report.”
The district didn’t say if the audit specifically dealt with selective enrollment fraud. But Schuler says CPS officials have recently shared new potential cases for him to investigate. Those cases were not included in this year’s report but, Schuler says “if they’re completed and sustained” they’ll be included in next year’s report.
The IG says he doesn’t know what percentage of actual CPS enrollment fraud is reflected in his current report. But he believes it’s bigger than what they’ve found so far.
“A good indication is that, in a few of the cases that we were working on this year involving suburban residency fraud, we actually found that parents picking up other students from other suburban households on the way to school and dropping them off at CPS schools,” he said. “So based on that alone it’s safe to say that there is more.”
In some cases, the new report names schools, but it generally does not name people involved in fraud. One person who is clearly named, however, is former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She resigned last year in the wake of a contract kickback scandal investigated by Schuler, among others. The IG report summarizes the events of Bryd-Bennett’s case so far, but offers no new details or comments citing its ongoing investigation.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at email@example.com