By Sheena Dooley | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES — Iowa could be forced to pay back $98 million to the U.S. Department of Education for failing to meet requirements of the federal stimulus dollars, according to Jeff Berger, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education.
The Iowa Auditor of State’s Office recently dinged the Iowa Department of Education for not keeping its promise to maintain education funding levels in exchange for millions of Education Jobs Act dollars. Districts received the money during the past two fiscal years to retain and hire staff during tight budget times.
The report identified Iowa as being high risk, despite it having only one instance of noncompliance in relation to the Education Jobs Act, according to the report.
It’s become harder for states to earn a low-risk status designation as lawmakers trim budgets, making it more difficult to hire the staff necessary to provide proper oversight of tax dollars, said Warren Jenkins, chief deputy auditor of state.
Specifically, the state audit showed:
- State officials failed to track unemployment contributions to ensure employers contributed the correct amount.
- The Iowa Department of Education allegedly misused Edujobs stimulus money to buy computer software for a student tracking system rather than add staff in schools, as the money was intended for. Berger said the stimulus dollars required them to report student data. The money allowed them to do that, he said.
- State agencies routinely provided money to low-income families and groups aimed at helping them, but failed to do timely site visits to ensure the dollars were properly spent.
The Iowa Department of Education just barely missed the requirement to maintain education funding on revenue estimates, according to the special audit report recently issued by the Iowa Auditor of State. The annual audit examined how state agencies spent federal dollars in fiscal year 2011 and the safeguards in place to avoid fraud.
“We have never been a state that wants to play chicken with the feds,” Berger said. “I would rather make sure we are doing what we should be doing.”
Iowa fared well on the audit, which looked at $7.7 billion in federal funds.
“That covers a lot of programs and a lot of agencies,” Jenkins said. “The state has obviously been challenged in meeting budgetary target. It did a good job of oversight.”