DISD Says It's Not Sitting on Federal Funds. It's Actually Trying to Keep From Wasting Them.

NoChildLeftBehind1.jpg
We started this morning by noting Brett Shipp's piece from last night suggesting the Texas Education Agency is threatening to withhold Dallas ISD from close to $80 million in federal funds birthed by No Child Left Behind. The reason, says Commissioner of Education Robert Scott: Only 40 students out of an eligible 29,349 have gotten their after-school tutoring paid for. Which, on the surface, sounds just horrible.

But DISD says today that's far from the whole story. Like, very far. Like, not even half the whole story. More like a couple of chapters from a really long story.

As proof we were sent the January 27 letter interim DISD superintendent Alan King sent to Scott in response to his January 13 warning letter on which Shipp based his account last night. In the letter, which follows, King writes that the reason DISD hasn't spent the money is because while performing its annual audit the district discovered "potential irregularities involving invoices received from several vendors" -- all of whom, incidentally, are tutoring services approved by TEA. Writes King, who later outs the issue as one involving double-billing, "the district took immediate action by reorganizing the department in charge of oversight for the program and hired a forensic team to conduct further investigations into the program."

King writes that district staff and TEA employees chatted about this in October, and that the result was an "action plan" that would resolve the hold-up. In the meantime, DISD continued trying to find out where the irregularities had come from -- inside 3700 Ross or with the contractors TEA had signed off on. Says the letter:
The initial concerns were that district employees were being paid by both the district and vendors for the same work or tutors were being paid by multiple vendors for the same time period. The District's Office of Professional Responsibility conducted a sampling of interviews with several district employees and found no indication of employee misconduct. The District, therefore, concluded that the apparent fraudulent activity was conducted by the vendors and the forensic audit team focused their procedures on these vendors.
Now here's where it gets really interesting ...

Not only is DISD concerned that those tutoring services are double-dipping from federal funds, but the district also doesn't think much of those tutoring services -- all of whom, you'll recall, are on TEA's list of approved vendors. This isn't easy to find. But there is a report, which you'll find here, that breaks down the services providers, which have names like Allegiance Learning Solutions, Cool Kids Learn, Cranium Maximus, Little Genius Private Learning, Orion's Mind and Sheila Williams Lyons: Acknowledge Me Now. According to the district, most of the 11,268 kids who enrolled in the tutoring services used Group Excellence (2,695 students), Apex Academics (1,593) or Tutors with Computers (1,129). And the district "funded SES at $1,490 per student," per the report.

But, says DISD's evaluation, it didn't appear to get much, if anything, for its investment. From Page 80 of the report:
For TAKS math vertical score means, SES eligible non-tutored students outperformed SES tutored students in the sixth grade by an average of 21 points. There was no significant difference between tutored and non-tutored students' vertical math scores in the seventh and eight grades. For TAKS reading, SES eligible non-tutored students outperformed SES tutored students in all three grades by an average of 17 points.
Eleven pages later, after a lot of data-crunching, the district determined:
In a broader sense, SES is a clear non-factor in helping students pass the TAKS that otherwise might not pass. When examining the rates between enrolled and non-enrolled (and tutored and nontutored), SES is not helping students who previously failed the TAKS test to pass this year, and there-in help schools make AYP. This is probably due in part to the fact that the majority of SES participants have previously passed the TAKS test and the fact that many providers are apparently not able to improve student academic performance.
Which brings us back to King's letter, in which he notes that the district's actually requested a waiver from TEA to "repurpose the mandatory set aside for SES services to a more productive initiative." Because, as the report notes, DISD doesn't think SES is very, you know, productive. Writes King:
The District will set aside approximately $10 million to hire teachers at Stage 2 and above AYP campuses in order to lower class sizes. Since all 26 campuses that meet this criterion are "school-wide", allocations will be distributed evenly across the affected campuses. Teachers will be hired according to the specific area of improvement of each campus. The improvement areas are math, reading, attendance and/or graduation rate. This proposal will allow the District to hire approximately 166 teachers or 6.4 additional teachers per campus.
TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson says the agency is "assessing the letter" from King, but since there's an "ongoing investigation, there's not a whole lot we can say." But "the bottom line is," she adds, "we need to make sure the students in Dallas ISD are being properly served."Tea Response Ses 012312 Slk v4[6]
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Retired Texas Teacher
Retired Texas Teacher

Correction:The math scores were ok but they were the reading results were very weak. The math scores were ok but their reading results were very weak.

Retired Texas Teacher
Retired Texas Teacher

I read the complete report. My observation, the 4 major providers from previous years should NOT be allowed to serve students in subject areas where they were not successful. Group Excellence billed DISD over $4 million dollars last year serving 25% of enrolled students. The math scores were ok but they were the reading results were very weak. Are they still doing business this year with DISD? Looks like the "minor" providers don't stand a chance recruiting students. Maybe if DISD limited vendors to no more than 5% of eligible students, more vendors would be involved. Maybe then we would see better results.

Gehrig Saldana
Gehrig Saldana

What a mess! Good that the DISD noticed these double-billingirregularities and brought this issue to TEA’s attention. If it appears TEA isnot going to initiate an immediate investigation on this issue I would hopeDISD trustees take this issue to the next level, either request that the DallasCounty District Attorney or Dallas U.S Attorney Sarah Saldana conduct animmediate investigation on this potential criminal double-billing connected tothese federal funds budgeted for tutoring DISD students attendinglow-performing schools?

Allen Gwinn, Dallas.Org
Allen Gwinn, Dallas.Org

I posted the original letter over on Dallas.Org.  I find it curious that Dahlander didn't address the question: "is it true?"  Rather he seemed to take a position that it's OK to break Federal law if it's being done for a noble purpose--such as investigating "billing irregularities."

The law may be poorly written--but there are many poorly-written laws we have to comply with every day.  This may be a great example of a truly abysmal law; but we need to find some way to address that issue without being in violation.

Am I missing something?

A Question
A Question

So what do we do with other laws we don't agree with, or we feel waste taxpayer's money, break them too? 

Michael123
Michael123

You'd think Texas State Education Commissioner Robert Scott would tone it down a bit and seek a federal investigation ASAP on the extent and volume of this criminal double-billing on these $79 million in Title I federal funds for low-income students by state mandated third-party vendors who are supposed to hire teachers to provide tutoring services to school children. For that matter, has interim Superintendent Alan King, board President Lew Blackburn, or any other member of the DISD school board requested an immediate criminal investigation on this matter yet?Anyone care to opine on how this crime is being conducted? Are teachers being taxed on this double-billing? I'm guessing DISD watchdog Allen Gwinn has already figured out there may be big time criminal activity involved in this particular issue. The question is not if but when a taxpayer citizen like Mr. Gwinn pays a visit to Dallas based U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldana requesting a thorough investigation on this double-billing scandal.

ReformDISD
ReformDISD

The sad thing is that no one took the initiative to tutor the students this past year. The district should have at least provided the services to the at-risk students. The whole purpose of the NCLB Act is to close achievement gaps. That's why they provide monies to campuses to IMPROVE Performance. The fine print points actions may be taken for "failure to perform" or by not following plans submitted to the State Education Agency. Basically, DISD submitted a plan, but failed to implement a plan which was approved. Any changes to plans must be approved in writing prior to changing how the funding will be allocated. DISD thinks they can have their own rules and not get caught.

It's obvious that the school board and administration need a lesson or should at least read the public law. Also, I wonder, why only 40 students were provided services? What happened to the rest of the money?

Commissioner Scott,Please help us by dismantling this district and contract an outside agency to manage the school board and the district. DISD needs a wake-up call. There are plenty of educated people that are beginning to get very concerned about the wastefulness that is happening in the DISD. Moreover, the school children are not getting any type of curriculum during the school day, much less supplemental services. A curricular audit is also needed. The courses are not up to par with most other urban districts in the state.

Ron
Ron

There is an old adage, "Excuses don't excuse". The problem is local and TEA, i.e., shouldn't be relied on to do what is best for students in Dallas. This is especially true when they  have provided $80,000,000 funding. It is what it is, 29,000 students eligible and 40 have been tutored. How can the effectiveness of the program be assessed with any meaningful results with this scenario. As a former Contract Manager, I wonder why "billing, invoicing, i.e. submitted by Vendors to DISD is not done on a monthly basis because this is a full time job.  A Contract Managers responsibility is to avert these type of problems.  So in my opinion (everyone has one), it is not a Vendor issue per se, but there has not been adequate oversight of the Vendors. Mr King's assertion that Vendor problem may be related because they are TEA approved true, but the contracting is local and if Vendors aren't meeting requirements, terminate the contract.

Max from the Sandspit
Max from the Sandspit

This is a pretty cool peek into the education racket envisioned by Pygmy Perot and Mark White 30 years ago. From No Pee, No Pay to No Pass, No play it was horrendus for EDS and Texas Education. Hope Burt's kid is still on the story cuz it's time to out these termites. This is a great history lesson in the making.

Joyce Foreman
Joyce Foreman

This is just one more chapter in the problems with DISD.  Please TEA take over the district immediately.  There is abdolutely no leadership, other than the charter school people taking over the district.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

 HOLY HOLY S*IT If Austin is the answer we must be in some DEEEEP  DO-DO

Deetta Culbertson, TEA
Deetta Culbertson, TEA

The Supplemental Education Services or SES (tutoring) are a requirement under the federal NCLB. Its important to note that the Commissioner of Education cannot waive a federal requirement. DeEtta CulbertsonTEA

Elenagreenmom
Elenagreenmom

I agree that these tutoring entities are not monitored as to effectiveness by TEA--and wonder why TEA insists that the money be spent only on "approved" service providers.  Who approves them and with what evidence, other than a good proposal and brochure?

For the record...
For the record...

Thanks for joining the discussion, DeEtta. Before this thread starts sewing, could you tell us, is the federal NCLB requirement specific to those tests? That is, I get that DISD cannot hire more teachers for another project completely, but aren't there ANY other uses to which this money can be put? Not incidentally, regarding the counseling non- and even ill effect on these students, Texas is overdue to tighten up educational counseling and tutoring services. Although TEA approval is for legally entitled firms, obviously, it doesn't take much to be certified to earn taxpayer money by sitting with kids. I was in instructional design grad school not long after Texas relaxed educational and certification standards, and saw some sub-standard people rushing for a few grad hours so they could bill tax entities - that was their stated goal. The intent was to fix the then-shortage of teachers, especially in rural areas where non-classroom-certified community figures, nurses, etc., could fill in as newly-mandated counselors. Now TEA eligibility criteria prove to be insufficient, wasteful, and even harmful.

Last, when was the last time an education story did not explicitly contain "what's best for the kids.." ? Seriously.

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