Over $100,000 spent to fix Arizona school funding error

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona Department of Education has spent more than $100,000 to fix errors that led to the misallocation of millions of dollars in federal funding, and the cost could rise.

The department paid $105,000 for an outside auditor to identify the problems in the allocation process. Washington, D.C.-based Afton Partners helped education officials prepare allocations for the fiscal year 2018. The firm also recalculated funds for each district and charter school for the last four fiscal years, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

Department spokesman Dan Godzich said the agency may have to retain a third-party in order to continue reviewing allocations. But the costs should be significantly less because Afton Partners had years of figures to go through.

State education officials revealed in October that hundreds of charter schools and school districts received more Title I funding for low-income students than they were entitled to. There was also a misallocation of federal funds for special education programs.

The money for Afton's contract and any future third-party help will be paid for by the 1 percent of Title I funding earmarked for administrative costs, Godzich said.

The problems started under then-Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal. But the mistakes were only compounded later, education officials said.

Superintendent Diane Douglas said the money being paid to rectify the errors was "a cost of doing business" so that all funds are correctly doled out in the future. Douglas spoke about the funding mishap at the department's annual Title I conference Nov. 15. The state submitted a plan to correct the issue to the U.S. Department of Education the day before, she said. The same plan will also be given to address the miscalculated special education disbursements.

State officials are hoping that those who received too much funding will not be asked to return it. Furthermore, no districts or charters will see future allocations reduced. Douglas said she is optimistic the proposal will gain approval.

"I don't expect any hiccups," she said, "but they are the federal government. They do get to decide."

-Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com