Ghost students: Failure and apparent fraud at one Baltimore high school

Last month a Baltimore TV station aired a report about a local high school that was doing an extraordinarily bad job for students. The report focused on one student (his name was withheld) at Augusta Fells high school who had been absent from class about half the year and had only passed three classes in four years. And yet this student had been promoted through the grades year after year. The most shocking part of the story was that the student’s 0.13 GPA placed him solidly in the middle of his class.

How could this be possible?

The local station has continued to dig into that question and two weeks ago they pieced together part of an explanation: Ghost students. Augusta Fells, and probably other schools in Baltimore, were keeping students on the rolls who hadn’t actually been there in months or years.

Fox45 News has obtained a document, from October 2019, which contains the names of 21 seniors at Augusta Fells. Sources tell us the school compiled the list of students who, while enrolled on paper, were not physically attending class and some hadn’t for years. They’re known by educators as ghost students.

In Maryland, schools receive funding per student. The more students enrolled, the more money the school gets. City Schools receives nearly $16,000 per student, every year. So, the question is, did North Avenue get taxpayer money to educate 21 students who were on the rolls of Augusta Fells, but were not actually attending the school? That would come out to $331,653 of taxpayer money to educate students who weren’t there…

Fox45 News redacted the names of the students, but this document shows two students enrolled at Augusta Fells in 2019 hadn’t received a grade since the 2015-2016 school year. Another four students enrolled in 2019 hadn’t received grades since the 2016-2017 school year. One student spent five years in ninth grade, and another spent five years just in 12th grade. And the school likely received funding for all of them.

A parent named Lisa Greene told Fox45, “I watched how much money this school was getting for the kids and it’s definitely fraud, it’s definitely fraud.” Yesterday the station gained access to transcripts for some of the students on the ghost student list.

One of the students started at Augusta Fells in 2013 and the last credit he earned was in 2017. But two years later, in fall of 2019, he was still on the rolls. In his final year at the school, he had one class listed, yearbook.

The other student’s transcript tells us he started at the school in 2015. The last credit he earned was during the 2016/17 school year. But he was still on the rolls of Augusta Fells in the fall of 2019 with a 0.8 GPA and a class rank of 91 out of 101 students.

Maryland’s inspector general is now looking into the ghost student allegations. Meanwhile, the city’s school bureaucracy has supposedly been investigating problems at Augusta Fells since 2019. That investigation has been ongoing for 20 months and the bureaucrats won’t comment on it or even say when it might be complete. The school’s former principal and assistant principal won’t speak about what was going on there.

What’s clearly going on at Augusta Fells is probably going on at other city schools. A former city council member who runs a charter school told Fox45 he believes ghost students are haunting all of the city’s schools and for the same reasons, i.e. schools are funded based on headcount. “It’s an open secret. To be frank with you. It’s an open secret that the system is very sloppy in its accounting. And so, it’s an open secret that there are thousands of kids who are not coming to school every day who are still on the rolls,” Carl Stokes said.

Like me, you’ve probably heard lots of people complaining about systemic racism over the past couple years. Well, I think Fox45 has uncovered something that looks a lot like genuine systemic racism, i.e. a system that is knowingly doing damage to mostly minority students with the winking approval of the adults in charge, adults who appear to be failing at every level.

As I said here, parents have the ultimate responsibility for their kids’ wellbeing, so I’m not sidestepping that as a factor, but when the local school is as corrupt as this high school appears to be I’m not sure their efforts would even matter. I’d be interested in a follow up to see if any child attending this high school in the past five years has done well. Augusta Fells looks more like a scam on the taxpayers than a school.

For the latest report on ghost students you’ll have to click here. Here’s an earlier one about Augusta Fells’ record of failure.