A survey of enrollment and attendance gaps in public schools in Maryland found that nearly $23.4 million in state and local funding was misallocated over a five-year period.
The Office of the Inspector General of Education on Tuesday released the findings of separate investigative audits of the Maryland State Department of Education and four school systems, including the city of Baltimore. From 2016 to 2021, investigators uncovered nearly 3,000 cases statewide of students who were incorrectly deemed eligible for state and local aid distributed to school systems. They recommend Maryland education officials assess whether state aid funds should be clawed back from school systems.
The survey report notes that the discrepancies represent a small percentage of total enrollment in public schools in Maryland, which had 881,000 students in September and receives billions of dollars in local and state funding each year.
Investigators say some students were ineligible for aid because they did not meet attendance or enrollment requirements. About a thousand students had no documented attendance at any time during the year, the report said. And officials found 29 instances where a student was counted twice, the report said.
Each year, the state Department of Education collects a snapshot of student enrollment data from local school systems on September 30. Maryland’s 24 school systems generally submit this information to the state along with codes indicating each student’s eligibility for state aid, in accordance with state regulations. According to the report, students must be present at school for at least one day in September – and not have withdrawn by September 30 – to be eligible for this funding.
The incorrect headcount has awarded school systems an additional $12.9 million in public funds and $10.5 million in local funds, which are typically used for things like transportation for students with disabilities or services for learners English-speaking, the report says.
Investigators found that local school systems self-reported 92% of discrepancies to the Maryland State Department of Education. However, the bureau faulted the state education department for failing to detect the discrepancies, failing to act on those flagged by school systems, and failing to identify errors later by the through an internal audit process.
The department’s audit office reviews each school system’s state assistance programs every two years using a methodology that relies on random samples, officials said in the report. Recent Department of Education audits of public schools in Montgomery County, City of Baltimore, Prince George’s County, and Dorchester County did not reveal any funding gaps related to attendance or performance. ‘registration.
The office of the inspector general for education also said school systems have received conflicting information from the state about student withdrawal requirements.
In an April 18 letter to the education inspector general, state superintendent Mohammed Choudhury denied that funding had been misallocated to local school systems and said the education department was held by the law to use the data collected each year on September 30.
The superintendent said the student data was correct when submitted on December 1 to the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Legislative Services. And the law, he said, does not require the Education Department to update or reconcile enrollment numbers for students eligible for state aid after data is submitted. .
This process “aligns with state practices across the country,” Education Department officials said in a statement Wednesday.
“MSDE and local school systems verify enrollment data through rigorous analysis that has resulted in a significantly low error rate,” education officials said in the statement. “In fact, the data presented in the Office of the Inspector General of Education report confirms that 99.9% or more of Maryland’s student population was correctly identified as eligible over five years, a result that can be attributed to the procedures and processes in place to ensure the accuracy of the data collected.
National Education finally subscribed to five of the six corrective recommendations of the Inspector General of Education. State education officials disagreed on the need for changes to Maryland’s Student Records Systems Handbook, which outlines requirements for dating a student’s withdrawal.
In addition to the statewide enrollment review, the Office of the Inspector General of Education also audited state aid enrollment counts for four local school systems – Baltimore City and Dorchester, Prince George’s and Talbot. The systems were chosen to represent both large and small jurisdictions.
The survey report for Baltimore City Schools, which serves a estimated at 77,000 young people, found more than 900 cases over a five-year period of students deemed eligible for state aid but who had not met attendance or enrollment requirements. More than 500 students did not register any attendance during the year.
The errors were caused by attendance not being properly recorded and school staff not identifying and removing chronically absent students in the short time available to school systems, says The report. The incorrect numbers resulted in the misallocation of $9.8 million in state and local funding from 2016 through 2021.
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Baltimore City School officials identified attendance recording issues in 2015 and created a process to improve student enrollment record keeping for funding eligibility purposes. These changes, the investigators said, resulted in fewer errors — until complications caused by virtual learning in the 2020-21 school year led to increased discrepancies.
A Baltimore City Schools representative pointed Wednesday to an April 18 letter written by the city’s superintendent of schools, Sonja Brookins Santelises, to Inspector General of Education Richard Henry.
The discrepancies represent “only 0.3% of the total number of students in city schools eligible for state funding during IOGE’s five-year review period,” the letter said. “The discrepancies were mostly concentrated in the early years of the review period, with the exception of some quite understandable challenges presented by a small number of schools in tracking students during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The city’s school system agreed with the Inspector General’s three corrective recommendations, which are expected to be implemented by the end of the 2022-23 school year.
The Education Inspector General’s investigation into funding issues was prompted by the Maryland Public Policy Institute, a conservative public policy think tank. The institute has asked the state education watchdog to investigate possible enrollment irregularities involving state aid funding for Baltimore City public schools.
The investigations follow an enrollment program uncovered at the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts. The former principal of the school and three administrators allegedly invented courses and approved students for graduation when they failed to pass courses legally.
This inspector general’s report on the city’s school system lists Augusta Fells Savage as one of five schools selected by investigators for risk-based student sampling.