School enrolment fraud is a problem - but what’s being done about it?
Some parents go to great lengths, including breaking the law, to get their children into good schools. Source: Shutterstock

It was just a few weeks ago when the news of the US college admissions scandal made headlines around the world. It’s an issue that seems rife – especially among the affluent.

Unsurprisingly, this left many questioning just how fair – or unfair – college admissions are.

But it’s not just universities that face unscrupulous parents scrambling to get their kids into top institutions – reports suggest it’s also a problem that exists in K12 education.

Misplaced priorities

In Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald recently reported that many popular public schools are cracking down on enrolment fraud. The report said one school had found seven families using the same enrolment address; another discovered a forged signature; while one uncovered that a student’s family had submitted a fake tenancy agreement.

“Public schools prioritise students in their catchment zone, but some are so popular due to strong results or good reputations that there are few places left for out-of-area applicants, prompting some parents to go to drastic lengths to pretend they are local,” said the report.

At another highly sought-after school, one senior staff member visited the home of a prospective student, only to find the student didn’t live there. While the school’s principal can discontinue a students’ enrolment if it was based on false information, the decision must also be approved by the regional director.

School enrolment fraud appears to be a common problem across several countries – a quick Google search unearths reports about the problem in the US, Singapore and New Zealand, among others.

In December, Washington DC’s Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced that he was suing six Maryland parents for lying about their addresses to gain access to district schools for free, including in-demand schools, without paying the required out-of-state tuition.

“The lawsuits seek nearly $700,000 total in unpaid tuition and damages, and potentially up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties,” said the OAD report.

It’s clear that some parents are willing to go to great lengths, including cheating and faking credentials, to get their children into good schools, but this is often done to the detriment of students.

Tackling the problem

According to reports, some schools take a proactive approach to tackling the problem.

The Seattle Times reported that public schools in Boston have an anonymous tip line for parents to expose students they suspect are lying about where they live, while in the Bayonne school district, parents can get US$200 if they “provide credible information that leads to a student being kicked out”.

Meanwhile, a Forbes report noted: “Districts across the country hire private investigators to make sure that students live where they say that they do. Extensive efforts are undertaken to ensure that the only students who are enrolled in a district live within its boundaries.”

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