Electronic Classroom owes state $20 million

By: Tonya Mead, CFE, CHFI, PI, MBA, MA Educational Psychology

A charter school operator in Ohio, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is on the hook for $60 million in repayments to the Ohio Department of Education for over-charges related to inflating student attendance data.  “Improperly enrolling students, forging signatures on student applications to increase enrollment numbers and misusing federal grant money”  were allegations made by two whistleblowers.  These fraudulent actions enabled the company to inflate its data by almost 20% and over bill the government $200 million during an 8 year span. Twenty percent isn’t the ceiling though. Two years ago, the Ohio State Auditor, Mr. Yost reported that the company may have inflated its data by 60%.

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As I have written in my book, data tampering, manipulating student data and filing false claims for government payment at the taxpayer’s expense is not new. Rather, due to a constricting economy, the perception of less value for more taxes, school privatization and school reform are increasing pressures for greater accountability.

While it must be noted that Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow was a tax-funded, privately operated school system, advocates for greater accountability hesitate to argue that public funded charter school operators defraud the taxpayer more so than poorly managed traditional public schools. Rather, accountability advocates hope for structural reform to improve accountability across the board. Here then are a few preventative measures I suggest.

Preventative measures

  • Recording and maintaining durational student log-in data
  • Establishing milestones at specific time intervals to routinely check the data for anomalies
  • Verifying data records with physical/paper checklists and or other forms of cross referencing
  • Requiring school system administrators to certify data under the threat of fines, sanctions and penalties related to gross misstatements and errors
  • Establishing a training program for school system administrators in the areas of: data entry, maintenance, storing, tracking integrity and data governance
  • Instituting a third-party data verification program for checks and balances
  • Mandating independent, third party review of data (desk top, onsite) that is random and unannounced prior to payment of claims
  • Establishing an inter-rater reliability program to check the data for red flags and anomalies
  • Instituting  formalized data governance policy, guidelines and oversight
  • Creating a whistle-blower and complaints hotline that will reward whistleblowers 1-3% of total fees for restitution collected

Tonya J. Mead, CFE, CHFI, PI, MBA, MA, formerly a certified K-12 Administrator and School Psychologist is author of Fraud in Education: Beyond the Wrong Answer and president of Shared Knowledge, LLC http://ishareknowledge.com

 

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