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Oklahoma Cited for Issues with Stimulus Money for Special Education

An audit by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General raised some questions about how the state spent some of its federal stimulus money, including special education funds.

Among the Inspector General's conclusions: "We determined that the (Oklahoma Department of Education and the Oklahoma Office of State Finance) ... did not follow applicable cash management regulations to ensure that subrecipients did not receive funds in advance of need. OSDE had advanced the full amount ($124 million) available under ARRA for Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (Title I) and Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to (school districts) without regard to their immediate funding needs."

The auditors took issue with how quickly Oklahoma forwarded money to districts—a move intended to save and create jobs. Six months after the state sent the money to districts, only about a quarter of the stimulus money for special education, about $19.6 million—had been spent.

The audit, which reviewed American Reinvestment and Recovery Act spending from Feb. 2009 through Dec. 2009, led the Oklahoma Department of Education to ask districts to send back unspent money. And in July 2010, after the federal review, the state returned about $10.6 million in unspent IDEA stimulus money to the U.S. Department of Education.

Across the state, districts had about $39 million in unspent stimulus money for Title I programs and $54 million in unspent IDEA money that had been advanced to them by the state during the second half of 2009.

In response to the review, the Oklahoma Office of State Finance said it reiterated proper funding techniques to state agencies. But it is up to those agencies, including the Oklahoma Department of Education, to distribute money according to those techniques.

My questions: Did the school districts really not need the money? Are special education programs in Oklahoma in particular as whole and vibrant as they were before the stimulus act? Or do they need it now, but they don't have it? Did something similar happen in your state?

Thanks to IDEA Money Watch for the heads up about this audit.

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