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Auditor General Jack Wagner Faults Department of Education for Administrative Deficiencies in Classrooms for the Future
HARRISBURG, Dec. 22, 2008 – Auditor General Jack Wagner said today that a special performance audit identified weaknesses in the Department of Education’s administration of Classrooms for the Future, a three-year, $155 million initiative whose goal is to put laptop computers in the classrooms of every Pennsylvania public high school.
Wagner said that lax monitoring resulted in systemic deficiencies that included a lack of adequate public disclosure about program funding to school districts, inconsistent grant awards to applicants, incomplete verifications of equipment purchases and security over equipment, and insufficient monitoring of program results and planning for continued successes of the program. Auditors confirmed school districts’ perceptions about the Department of Education’s lack of transparency in the grant application process and the inconsistent methodology in determining grant amounts.
Wagner’s auditors identified four findings that led to 15 recommendations.
Despite the administrative flaws, Wagner noted that the program had generated enthusiasm among students and teachers. He recommended that the Department of Education continue the program in fiscal year 2009-10 to ensure that all districts benefit from the initiative, starting with the four districts who did not reapply after they were rejected in the first year.
“If Classrooms for the Future funding continues, every district should benefit and there should be a greater accountability of public dollars,” Wagner said, noting that the program originally called for every public high school to participate by 2009.
Other recommendations include the following:
The Rendell administration initiated Classrooms for the Future in 2006 to provide laptop computers, high-speed Internet access, state-of-the-art software, and intensive teacher training and support to Pennsylvania high school classrooms. Wagner said the program is intended to transform and enhance how educators teach and students learn.
The Department of Education originally determined that $200 million was needed to fund the program for its first three years. It budgeted $20 million for the first fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007, and $90 million a year for each of the next two fiscal years. The department received the expected funding during the first two years but received only $45 million of its expected $90 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year, for a total of $155 million received during the three-year rollout.
The Department of Education eventually awarded grants to 447 of the state’s 501 school districts over the three years. As of June 30, only 30 of the participating districts had received funding to purchase all the equipment for which they were eligible. Of the 54 public school districts that did not participate at all, 50 never applied for grants, and the remaining four districts applied the first year of the program but were rejected and did not apply again. Wagner said the Department of Education never followed up with the 50 districts to determine why they did not apply for program grants, and he faulted the Department of Education for not contacting those schools to make sure they fully understood the program and its benefits.
Wagner said eligible program participants included public school districts, comprehensive high school level area vocational technical schools, and career technical centers at the high school level that offer credit courses in English, math, science, and social studies; have a twelfth grade physically located within the school; and have been accountable to the state for meeting adequate yearly progress requirements.
Despite the Department of Education’s administrative shortcomings, Wagner said, they should not be used as an excuse to terminate the program before its impact can be fully measured. Preliminary measurements were presented in a report dated August 31, 2007, by Penn State University, with whom the Department of Education contracted. The Penn State researchers found positive results in the areas of teacher practice, student activity, teacher and student attitudes, student achievement, and the development of new skills.
Wagner’s report is available in its entirety at www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.
Auditor General Jack Wagner is responsible for ensuring that all state money is spent legally and properly. He is the commonwealth’s elected independent fiscal watchdog, conducting financial audits, performance audits, and special investigations. The Department of the Auditor General conducts approximately 5,000 audits per year.
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