SOUTH BEND — The state is asking South Bend’s school districtschools?to repay more than $620,000?after an investigation found the district claimed money?for dozens of Rise Up Academy students who never logged into?online classes
The Indiana Department of Education asked state auditors to look into?enrollment at the alternative school after a complaint that Rise Up students?were not receiving an adequate education, according to a State Board of Accounts report published this week.
Auditors?reviewed enrollment and?attendance figures dating to July 2018 and?found dozens of students?counted in the district’s requests for enrollment-based funding who had never?logged into South Bend’s online learning platform.
South Bend school administrators admit some students’ lack of participation in online learning was overlooked during enrollment counts, and the district?has already paid back more than $360,000 in state money.
The district, however, has disputed claims over some students’ status during the 2018-2019 and 2019-20 school years and is waiting for a final response from the state.
”We’ve worked together with the State Board of Accounts for many years and we have a good relationship with them,” said Todd Cummings, who became South Bend schools superintendent in July 2019. “This was a matter of me and my team, when becoming superintendent, of getting policies and procedures right.”
Rise Up Academy currently serves about 200 students, according to state data, most of whom are at risk to drop out of high school or not meet Indiana graduation requirements.
South Bend students must apply and meet certain criteria to attend the academy, which offers flexible education programs through in-person, virtual and hybrid settings.
To assess Rise Up Academy enrollment reports, state auditors reviewed daily logs generated by Edmentum, the online learning program South Bend schools used in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.
The logs showed students’ names and the times and dates they logged in and out of the program.
The audit found a dozen students were funded for enrollment at Rise Up in fall 2018 despite showing no activity in the Edmentum program. This number grew to 31 students in fall 2019 and to 80 students by the district’s spring 2020 enrollment count.
South Bend schools also received?funding for students who?had only logged into Edmentum after the district’s?six-to-eight week enrollment reporting window closed, the audit found.
Teachers and principals are traditionally responsible for verifying class participation for enrollment counts reported to the state,?said Rafi Nolan-Abrahamian, South Bend’s assistant superintendent for accountability.
”It’s clear that at Rise Up in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school year,?they accepted students beyond what they had the capacity to really support through some of those methods of instruction,” Nolan-Abrahamian said.
In a state formula where each enrolled student carries thousands of dollars of funding, the State Board of Accounts found that South Bend’s school district collected?nearly $550,000?for students lacking proper documentation.
Additional requests for repayment were asked based on elevated levels of funding for students who are non-English speakers or receive special education services.
The state audit also found that South Bend schools requested full funding for Rise Up students who received more than half of their education virtually.
By state law, virtual students who receive 50% or more of their education online?are funded at 85% of that of traditional student.
In a nine-page response to the state’s audit, South Bend school representatives argued the district should not return its difference in funding for?virtual students because a?majority of Rise Up Academy’s?programs are offered as?credit recovery, which state law exempts from virtual funding restrictions.
The contents of the?audit report were shared in March with top South Bend school officials, including the superintendent and?multiple school board members.
In their response to the report, district representatives supplied state auditors with?additional student records.
They?urged?the board of accounts to reconsider repayment requests for some students who may have attended?in-person activities or transferred between in-person and virtual programs.
”We’re working closely to reach a reasonable conclusion in the matter,” Cummings said.
South Bend administrators say?they began changing their?accountability practices this school year, before learning the results of the state audit.
The district is now?limiting?the number of students it will accept?at Rise Up Academy and has hired two new positions to ensure proper staffing is available to monitor progress and track how often students are logging into class.
”We do want to make sure we’re being transparent,” Cummings said. “This is all about instituting policies and protocols and hiring new folks to make sure that going forward, we get this right.”
Email South Bend Tribune education reporter Carley Lanich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @carleylanich.