Audit Raises Concerns on Special Education In BIA-Funded Schools

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The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, could not adequately account for more than $100 million in funding for students in special education in schools on American Indian reservations, according to a recent audit by the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Education.

The auditors also expressed concern about the rest of the federal education funding—about $217.3 million—the Department of the Interior agency received during the period examined in the report, July 1, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2003. Since the BIA had been unable to properly monitor its special education funding, there may be similar problems with some of its other education programs, including Title I grants for disadvantaged students, the March 28 report says.

“Based on the issues related to the administration of special education, we concluded that other federal education programs could be affected by the weaknesses,” the audit report says.

The BIA disputed that contention, according to the report, as well as the audit’s central conclusion that the agency did not properly account for funding for students in special education. But the inspector general’s office disagreed, saying the information that the BIA provided to bolster its case “did not include any detail support documentation, was outside the audit period, was incomplete, or did not address the findings or recommendations.”

Since the audit review period, the Office of Indian Education Programs has been reorganized as the Bureau of Indian Education.

7 Schools Examined

The Education Department auditors reviewed a sample group of seven schools to draw conclusions about the management of funds provided under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act at schools financed by the BIA, which includes schools operated by Native American tribes as well as those managed by the agency itself.

The schools were in Minnesota, New Mexico, and North Dakota.

Since the accounting and documentation problems at the schools were systemic, the auditors concluded that the same difficulties may have occurred at all 185 schools financed by the BIA.

The BIA wasn’t able to show that the seven schools reviewed provided the necessary special education services to 68 percent of their students. The IG’s office reviewed the records of 194 students in special education. Of that group, 131 either didn’t receive the services specified in their individualized education programs or the auditors couldn’t verify that those services had been provided.

To remedy the problem, the audit suggests that the Education Department’s assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services seek assurances from BIA officials that the $111 million in IDEA funding in question was used to help educate students in special education at bureau-funded schools. The audit also suggests that the assistant secretary instruct the BIA to establish written accounting procedures to keep proper track of federal education funds, including IDEA money.

The inspector general’s office also recommends that the BIA make sure all its schools are aware that they must document all services provided to students in special education.

In addition, the audit found that the BIA used a high proportion of its special education funds for purposes other than direct support to students. The report chides the BIA for using 19 percent of its funding for “nondirect services” in fiscal 2003, and 10 percent for such services in fiscal 2002.

Lack of Oversight

Another report from the inspector general’s office, released March 30, found that the documentation and accounting problems at BIA-funded schools might have been avoided if the Education Department had done a better job overseeing the BIA’s management of money for students in special education.

The Education Department treats the BIA as akin to a state educational agency with respect to the agency’s administration of special education funding.

The department’s office of special education programs conducted two monitoring visits to BIA offices and schools between 1998 and 2005.

While the special education office’s reports following those visits cited problems at the BIA, such as a failure to place students in special education in the least restrictive environment, as required under the IDEA, the reports did not identify the type of problems regarding lack of documentation for services and insufficient accounting procedures identified in the audit by the inspector general’s office.

The inspector general’s office recommended that the deputy secretary of education ensure that the Education Department teams that monitor the BIA’s schools include financial personnel.

In comments responding to the audit, the Education Department said it had “provided the needed oversight and identified the substantive issues identified by the IG,” according to the audit report.

Vol. 26, Issue 33, Page 11

Published in Print: April 18, 2007, as Audit Raises Concerns On Special Education In BIA-Funded Schools
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