The Mississippi Department of Education exercised sound oversight in administering federal recovery aid to the state’s school districts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, but state officials had “weak internal controls” in monitoring the flow of federal dollars to private schools, a federal audit has found.
A Sept. 7 report by the inspector general’s office of the U.S. Department of Education found flaws in the state’s oversight of a $750 million federal grant program that Congress created as part of the Hurricane Education Recovery Act to address the massive displacement of students after the storms in the Gulf Coast region. The audit says that a contractor hired by the state to monitor public and private schools participating in the program appeared to have financial ties to schools and organizations it was charged with monitoring.
State officials also mistakenly awarded federal funds directly to private schools, rather than having public districts oversee the distribution of that money, as is required by the HERA, according to the audit.
Hank M. Bounds, Mississippi’s state superintendent of education, said in a letter responding to a draft of the audit that the state education department had “acted in good faith and with a great sense of urgency” to get the federal aid to schools as soon as possible after the hurricanes. He said the state has taken some actions specifically recommended in the audit.