Last year WBFF in Baltimore uncovered the existence of “ghost students” at a high school in the city where the average GPA for seniors was 0.13. These were students who were enrolled in school on paper but who rarely or never attended classes.
Last April the Maryland Public Policy Institute sent a formal request to the Maryland Inspector General for Education asking that the issue of ghost students be investigated. And finally, last September Baltimore City Schools released their own report which identified about 100 ghost students who were attending ghost classes.
AFS students were scheduled into classes that did not exist (known at the school as “filler classes”), when they should have been withdrawn due to lack of attendance. For example, the investigation identified students who were enrolled in a yearbook class with a school administrator as the teacher of record, during the 2017-2018 school year through the 2019-2020 school year. While enrolled students were recorded as attending this class, there were no records of any class meeting, and no witnesses could verify the existence of the class. For approximately 10 students, this yearbook course was the only class in which they were enrolled at AFS in a particular year; others were enrolled in several other elective classes, such as journalism and creative writing, under similarly questionable circumstances.
This week the Maryland IG for Education finally released their report which found there were more than 900 ghost students in Baltimore City Public Schools at a cost to taxpayers of $10 million dollars. Statewide the situation was even worse. [emphasis added]
The IG’s audit, released on April 20, looked at enrollment counts over the last five years and found 928 instances of students in Baltimore City who did not meet attendance or enrollment requirements under Maryland law. The audit found 532 City students who didn’t have any recorded attendance during the year.
Those students should not have been eligible for funding, but City Schools received nearly $10 million in taxpayer dollars to educate those students, who were not there.
In the same five-year period, the IG found nearly 3,000 instances of students statewide who should not have received funding. That includes 995 students who had no documented attendance at any point during the year. That adds up to nearly $24 million in misallocated tax dollars.
Sean Kennedy of The Maryland Public Policy Institute, the group that requested the investigation, told WBFF, “It’s a big deal that we are catching them spending money that they should not have had.” He added, “This is nothing less than theft. They’re stealing money from the taxpayers of Maryland in order to line their pockets or to spend money on other programs when the money was not designated for that.”
The full IG report is here. The report explains that schools simply weren’t following the required procedures to note that students were chronically absent.
They were supposed to mark students truant when they’d been absent for 10 consecutive days. Instead, they didn’t take these steps until students had been absent for 105 days! An entire school year is only 180 days, so we’re talking about students who were absent well more than half the time.
And of course, this report doesn’t get into the more serious problem. WBFF revealed last year that 41% of Baltimore City Public School students have a GPA below 1.0. So it’s not just that taxpayers are being charged for the small percentage of students who aren’t there at all, it’s that they’re being charged a lot of money to not educate the students who are. In 2019, BCPS had the third highest per pupil spending in the nation among large public school districts at $16,184 per pupil. And this is what they get for it: