A New Orleans private school collected $61,698 in voucher payments from the state it was not entitled to last year, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said Monday morning.
The school is the Upperroom Bible Church Preschool and Academy, Inc. in New Orleans East.
The report follows an independent audit received by the state Department of Education last year that questioned payments for 16 students enrolled at the school during the first and second quarters of the 2014-15 school year.
Purpera’s report says the school collected the money even though officials apparently knew the students were neither properly enrolled nor attending the school that year.
The study called the incident a possible violation of state law.
Vouchers are state aid that allows students from low-income families attending troubled public schools to attend private schools.
About 7,100 collect vouchers in the current school year, mostly in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
In its response, school officials questioned the authority of the legislative auditor’s office to do the review. At issue for school officials is whether the independent auditor’s questioned payments for 16 students was a serious enough to infraction to warrant a follow up state audit; the school has argued in court that it was not. The case is on appeal after a 19th District Court judge sided with the state.
Upperroom Executive Director Carol Rowe also told the auditor that the state Education Department, not her school, is required to report student attendance and has the authority to enroll or withdraw students from a particular school.
Further, “students were allowed to transfer or withdraw from (the school) without any notice to (the school). This is a fallacy” of the state department, not Upperroom, the school’s attorney Nina Hunter wrote.
During the audit, the school also did not provide many documents the state auditor requested, or provided two different sets of what were supposed to be the same document, the audit said. Missing or contradictory documents included student enrollment forms, attendance records, parent contact information, and forms signed by parents. Thus, to track down enrollment information for the 16 questioned students, state officials had to call parents and other area schools directly.
Rowe countered that enrollment forms are not applicable to schools enrolled in New Orleans’ OneApp common enrollment process, that her staff submitted one set of questioned attendance records to the state erroneously and that staffers in fact did submit parent contact information and signed forms.
State education officials have said they withheld $61,698 from the school for the third and fourth quarters of 2014-15.
Staff writer Jessica Williams contributed reporting.
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