Page One Kentucky and several blogs have been alive for weeks about a federal investigation into grants for education research that may have been mishandled by Robert Felner, the former dean of the education school at the University of Louisville. The Feds aren’t saying a lot, but TV newscasters in Louisville and Page One Kentucky have been posting all sorts of damning evidence. Now the Courier-Journal has finally chimed in, reporting that a huge grant for $694,000 to improve the state’s performance on No Child Left Behind may have evaporated without any increased benefit to our students.
While the investigation still continues in this case, it already looks like there couldn’t have been any sort of decent audit process in place to insure tax money was being properly spent. Individuals and agencies who were named as involved with the center supposedly created by this grant in fact have never even heard of it, something a reasonable audit should reveal.
While this particular problem highlights poor accounting for federal money at the US Department of Education and at the University of Louisville, we have plenty to worry about with the way Kentucky’s education tax dollars are being monitored – or, more correctly, not being monitored – as well. More than a year and a half after its shortcomings were first exposed, the state’s MUNIS education accounting system remains a mess, so badly organized that no-one even knows the overall amount we are spending on teacher professional development. That’s important, because a lot of this “development” is conducted by contractors just like Felner was supposed to be. With MUNIS a mess, who knows if those contractors even exist, or if they actually provide the services for which we are paying? Or, if our hard-earned money is just going into some crook’s pocket?
Just last year, a local school finance person was convicted for paying a full-time “salary” to her son. The problem – the son was in jail at the time. Why did this happen? Why did that finance person think she could get away with this?
The taxpayer deserves better accounting for his or her hard earned dollars, and the school system needs to understand that the current business as usual isn’t adequate. Education has just gotten too expensive for us to be able to afford sloppy fiscal controls. When over half a million dollars that could have helped kids just evaporates, a lot of the good people involved with education need to get in the lead of demanding a system where their honesty is firmly established while the dishonest go to jail. And, when the legislature and the governor just stand by while MUNIS remains in chaos, it’s time for taxpayers to cry, “Enough!”