Virtual School Meanderings

July 7, 2022

GAO – Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Education

This item from the GAO came across my electronic desk in the past couple of days:

Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Education

Each year, we make more than 1,000 recommendations to help improve the federal government. We alert department heads to where they can save the most money, address issues on our High Risk List, or significantly improve government operations.

This report outlines our 5 priority open recommendations for the Department of Education as of June 2022. For example, to help ensure that student loan borrowers receive more consistent advice, we recommended that Education improve guidance it provides to the companies it pays to manage the loans.

Since our previous letter in June 2021, Education implemented 3 of our priority recommendations.

What GAO Found

In June 2021, GAO identified seven priority recommendations for the Department of Education. Since then, Education has implemented three of those recommendations by: 1) improving the quality of data on restraint and seclusion incidents in public schools; and 2) working with states to regularly collect and report information on school district and state spending of certain COVID-19 relief funds, providing greater clarity to track spending.

In June 2022, GAO identified one additional priority recommendation for Education, bringing the total number to five. These recommendations involve the following areas:

  • protecting the investment in higher education and
  • ensuring the well-being and education of the nation’s school-age children.

Education’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations.

Why GAO Did This Study

Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations.

The reason it caught my attention was because there was a portion of the report that focused on virtual schools and, in particular, virtual charter schools.  The section in question read:

K-12 Education: Department of Education Should Help States Address Student Testing Issues and Financial Risks Associated with Virtual Schools, Particularly Virtual Charter Schools. GAO22-104444. Washington, D.C.: January 31, 2022.

Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should identify the factors that cause underreporting and misreporting of information on management organizations that contract with charter schools, including virtual charter schools, and take steps to help states report accurate data on these contracts.

Action Needed: Education agreed with this recommendation. To fully implement this recommendation, Education should gather information on how states determine whether charter schools have contracts with management organizations with respect to their EDFacts data reporting, modify the instructions for data submissions, and clarify the definition of a management organization, including the for-profit status of these organizations.8 Unless Education takes steps to improve data quality, it cannot measure and properly mitigate elevated financial and programmatic risks.

The report that is linked above (i.e., GAO22-104444) is K-12 Education:Department of Education Should Help States Address Student Testing Issues and Financial Risks Associated with Virtual Schools, Particularly Virtual Charter Schools, which was released back in March of this year.  And we’ve talked about this in the past (see GAO study suggests online school wars may be decreasing and GAO Report – Department of Education Should Help States Address Student Testing Issues and Financial Risks Associated with Virtual Schools , Particularly Virtual Charter Schools).

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