The New York City Department of Education doesn’t know what happened to the $84 million it spent on students with disabilities programs, an audit report released Monday shows.
Controller of the audit, Scott Stringer, pointed to the fact that the city didn’t track where money for physical and speech therapy treatment as well as psychological counseling landed. Instead, NYC ended up spending the money on poorly crafted and even completely empty programs designed to scam the government into wasting taxpayer dollars on pointless education initiatives.
“During the audit, DOE represented that it did not have any project plans, implementation schedules, and progress reports to document the steps taken, rate of progress, and total cost” the report reads. The “DOE failed to appropriately plan, monitor, document, and manage,” its initiatives, the report went on.
The city relies on reports from parents who are supposed to write into the city council to inform them of any issues, but the response rate was less than 0.5 percent in 2016. NYC also deactivated a program that had previously been in place to monitor whether students were in class and therefore whether the disability services being paid for were actually benefiting students, thus making it that much more difficult to determine the effectiveness of payments for disability programs.
“Children with special needs deserve nothing but the best,” Stringer said according to NY Daily News. “But between the shoddy oversight and duplicative payments, it’s clear the Department of Education isn’t delivering,” he added.
The audit report looked at the city’s mechanisms in charge of monitoring how payments are made to vendors that provide disabled students with services and found that the payment controls were not only inadequate but virtually nonexistent. The “DOE could not provide the additional dollar amounts that were budgeted for school upgrades,” the audit said. Stringer added that millions of dollars were subject to fraud, providing an explanation also for why the city can’t figure out where the money it spent in 2016 actually ended up.
The report alleges there were over 3,000 duplicative and faulty payments to providers who said they had treated the same group of students during the same time period in 2016, totally over $131,000 in wasted payments. The audit also reported another $1 million in duplicate payments it found in an alternate database. NYC public schools also reportedly lost $356 million in federal Medicaid payments for special education services between 2012 and 2014, because the state didn’t apply for reimbursement payments correctly.
It’s lax controls do a major disservice to NYC’s approximately 220,000 disabled students Stringer said. “Adults in the bureaucracy are wasting dollars that should be spent on students with special needs,” Stringer said. “It’s wrong and it’s heartbreaking,” he added.
The Education Department spokeswoman Toya Holness however, said the department doesn’t agree with most of the audit’s recommendations. “We have robust financial processes in place that serve students, schools and taxpayers — 99.9 percent of over 2 million sessions billed by vendors in school year 2015-16 had no errors identified,” Holness said. “Any discrepancies are immediately investigated and addressed,” Holness added.
NYC’s DOE also said it’s investigating the lost dollars and will seek to retrieve the dollars if possible.
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