District of Columbia Public Schools

Student Enrollment Count Remains Vulnerable to Errors Gao ID: HEHS-97-161 August 21, 1997

Although the District of Columbia public school system has tried to respond to criticism of the accuracy of its student enrollment count, it has overlooked larger systemic issues. As a result, fundamental weaknesses continue to plague the enrollment count process, making it vulnerable to inaccuracy and weakening its credibility. For example, the lack of internal controls allows multiple records and other errors that raise questions about the accuracy of the database used as a key part of the count. Moreover, unidentified nonresident students may be included in the count when they avoid detection because the school system's sanctions are not enforced. An accurate and credible enrollment counts depends on a process with stringent accountability and strong internal controls. Current reform initiatives have heightened public awareness of the issues and have increased public scrutiny of the process. Meanwhile, new budget initiatives for per-pupil accounting will increase this level of scrutiny.

GAO noted that: (1) even though DCPS changed parts of its enrollment count process in school year 1996-97 to address criticisms, the process remains flawed; (2) some of these changes increased complexity and work effort but did little to improve the count's credibility; (3) errors remained in the Student Information System (SIS), but DCPS had only limited mechanisms for correcting these errors; (4) problems also persisted in the critical area of residency verification; (5) in school year 1996-97, schools did not always verify student residency as required by DCPS' own procedures; (6) proofs of residency, when actually obtained, often fell short of DCPS' standards; (7) Central Office staff did not consistently track failures to verify residency; (8) school staff and parents rarely suffered sanctions for failure to comply with the residency verification requirements; (9) the pupil accounting system failed to adequately track students; (10) SIS allowed more than one school to count a single student when the student transferred from one school to another; (11) schools did not always follow attendance rules, and SIS lacked the capability to track implementation of the rules; (12) some attendance rules, if implemented, could have allowed counting of nonattending students; (13) other school districts report that they use several approaches to control errors and to increase the accuracy of their enrollment counts; (14) these include using centralized enrollment and pupil accounting centers and a variety of automated student information system edits and procedures designed to prevent or disallow pupil accounting errors before they occur; (15) the recently enacted District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995 requires the enrollment count process to produce enrollment numbers for nonresidents and students with special needs; (16) DCPS (acting on behalf of the District of Columbia Board of Education) and the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority are not in compliance with requirements of this new law; (17) the Department of Education helped DCPS develop its request for proposals for the independent audit of the enrollment count for school year 1996-97, but it had no role in preparing DCPS' official enrollment count for school year 1996-97; and (18) the Authority subsequently decided, however, that auditing the count for school year 1996-97 would be counterproductive.


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