D.C. Schools Fish for Grants

, Matt Hadro, Leave a comment

A recent federal audit uncovered yet another financial trail of corruption in the D.C. Public School system, reported the Washington Examiner. Federal grants accepted by the District yearly since 1980, to be used for the education of children of migrant farmers and fishermen, have been swallowed up by the bureaucracy. As of 2005, an audit shows that no eligible children were found in the school system.

Apparently, it never occurred to the geniuses conferring these grants that farming in our nation’s capital is limited to the type of agriculture that can be performed in window boxes. Most of the fishing opportunities in the Potomac, meanwhile, are of the catch-and-release variety.

The federal grants were sent to fund the tutoring, counseling, and health monitoring of students accompanying their parents to seasonal farming and fishing jobs. Ranging anywhere from $400,000 to $500,000 per year, the annual federal migrant education grants during the years of 2000-04 totaled just under $2.5 million. The U.S. government has threatened to take legal action in order to recover the money. The False Claims Act lawsuit could very well entitle the federal government to up to three times the amount of money embezzled, along with a maximum of $11,000 in fines for each infraction. That would mean a fine for each “phantom” student.

In 2003, school board representatives were ordered by the U.S. Department of Education to hire independent consultants and audit their school programs, and then report the results to the government. Two years later, District school officials consulted a list of families who were supposedly benefiting from the grant money. Out of the 333 families listed, 189 were not even migrants, while the other 144 “families” were not recognized.

The school officials immediately canceled the program following the audit, though it was still funded as late as April of 2006. Law enforcement officials remain unsure of the exact use of the grant money by the District.

The District Public Schools have had a tainted history of corruption and mediocrity within the bureaucracy. The district where only 9 percent of incoming Freshman students eventually graduate high school and then receive college diplomas in the following five years (below the national average of 23 percent) has consistently been criticized by outside consultants and federal reviews for poor accounting practices and general mismanagement. The Department of Education just last year labeled the District school system “high risk” for federal funding.

The Washington Post reported in January that an independent audit was conducted on the system. Though the audit received a “clean” mark, high concern was expressed over the mediocre standards of the system and its internal controls, namely, “a poorly trained staff, incomplete records, unauthorized overtime pay, and inadequate monitoring of federal grant money.”

Matt Hadro
was an intern this summer at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.