- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Government Accountability Office has criticized the group that administers the District’s school voucher program, saying the agency provides “incomplete and untimely information” about schools to participating families, and calling for both internal improvements and a helping hand from outside agencies.

In one example cited in its 80-page report on the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, the GAO noted that a directory intended to help parents pick among schools wasn’t published until the academic year was almost over.

“The Trust published the Directory for the 2012-2013 school year in May 2013, about nine months after the start of that school year,” the GAO wrote.

Trust officials told the GAO that publishing a directory near the end of a school year was not useless because the 2011-12 guide had still been available to give parents information for 2012-13 and that the May-published directory “can assist families for the upcoming 2013-14 school year.” Trust officials said they plan on publishing the annual guides by December, about midway through each school year.

Broadly, the GAO focused on three topics: How the trust provides its information, the dependability of the trust’s internal system for monitoring the voucher program, and whether agencies that must aid the trust have done their part.

In all three areas, the GAO saw room for improvement, noting that the participating school directory “lacked key information about schools’ tuition, fees, and accreditation.”

The report went on to criticize the trust’s internal controls, saying they “do not ensure effective implementation and oversight of” the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a first-of-its-kind effort, established by Congress in 2004 for D.C. parents who wanted to send their disadvantaged children to Catholic schools or other private options instead of struggling public schools.

The report also highlighted the problems with the trust’s internal system for monitoring school compliance and financial information.

To continue awarding scholarships and assisting students as best it can, the trust needs to provide more accurate and timely information, the report stated.

In a written response to the GAO report, trust executive director Ed Davies said he agreed with the accountability office’s opinion that there was work to be done to better frame the time for awarding scholarships, and for turning in financial reports, but he said many of the other issues with his agency’s performance stemmed from a previous management and were already being addressed.

“The Trust’s current management has engaged in an exhaustive and comprehensive review of the policies and procedures that govern every aspect of the OSP program in its continual efforts to provide increased efficiency, stronger administrative oversight, continual risk assessment and increased internal control monitoring to ensure greater accountability and program participation,” he stated.

The accountability office also reported that the Department of Education was not doing as much as it could to help the trust and suggested “more rigorous oversight and monitoring” of the group.

“Trust officials acknowledged that Education has provided general assistance regarding administrative and operational functions, but it has not assisted with specific improvements in these areas,” GAO said.

Nadya Chinoy Dabby, the U.S. Department of Education’s acting assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, stated in her response to the draft version of the report in September that the department takes the issues raised “very seriously.”

“We will use the information in this report to continue to improve the Department’s oversight to help ensure the success of the program, along with helping to ensure the oversight of the Trust and its coordination with the D.C. Deputy Mayor’s Office.”