Indiana Republicans say law adequate despite school fraud

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Indiana Republican leaders are resisting steps toughening state laws on privately operated online schools, pushing aside blame in the alleged enrollment inflation by two such schools that wrongly collected $69 million in taxpayer money.

Posted: Feb 23, 2020 11:06 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Republican leaders are resisting steps toughening state laws on privately operated online schools, pushing aside blame in the alleged enrollment inflation by two such schools that wrongly collected $69 million in taxpayer money.

The state audit of Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy released this month outlined how they paid nearly $86 million to companies linked to the schools’ founder or his associates with little or no documentation about what services they provided.

Republicans who dominate the state Legislature have rejected complaints from Democrats that responsibility for the fraud rests with lax regulations dating from the 2011 GOP-driven state education overhaul.

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders did say this past week that they would give up campaign contributions from sources related to the two schools, which Democrats say topped $100,000 to state Republicans since 2015.

The Republican-controlled Senate education committee voted down on Wednesday a Democratic proposal that would’ve required charter schools, which are privately operated with state funding, to be covered by surety bonds that would refund the state for instances of fraud.

Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Raatz, a Richmond Republican, pointed to a law adopted last year after the possible enrollment padding became public that added a new requirement that online schools drop from their enrollment figures any student who is a habitual truant.

The State Board of Accounts found the two online schools improperly claimed about 14,000 students as enrolled between 2011 and 2019, even though they had no online course activity.

Other allegations included a deceased student being counted more than a year after his death and two students who moved to Florida in 2011 included as enrolled as recently as the 2018-19 school year.

“I’m of the opinion, after a great deal of checking on things, that things are fairly well set into place to make sure that anything like this doesn’t happen again,” Raatz said.

Democrats assert that Republicans are shirking their responsibility for a massive fraud involving the schools that received 100% of their funding from the state and that the 2011 law over such schools had “no teeth.”

“It’s because they failed to supervise,” said Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis. “We passed thin legislation with no regulatory structure.”

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma assigns blame to the state Department of Education for not properly confirming the schools’ enrollment claims.

That agency is led by state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who has split with fellow Republicans over her support for increased scrutiny of charter and private schools that receive state money.

“It’s pretty tough to legislate, to overcome criminal intent,” Bosma said.

The Indiana investigation comes as similar enrollment inflation cases involving online charter schools have happened in Ohio, Oklahoma and California.

The Indiana audit report said its findings had been given to federal and state authorities for possible criminal violations.

A federal grand jury subpoena to the schools in August was included in documents released last year, but a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Indianapolis has declined to comment.

Past attorneys for the schools, which shut down last summer, or their founder, Thomas Stoughton, have declined to discuss the allegations or haven’t returned telephone messages seeking comment.

Three online charter schools operated by other organizations with about 6,400 students continue operating, according to the state education department.

The Department of Education said it hasn’t had the authority to oversee whether charter schools are complying with state and federal laws.

“To blame the Department of Education for the malfeasance at these schools is unwarranted and counterproductive, as we have worked within our legislatively created authority and capacity,” the department said in a statement.

Stoughton and at least three companies improperly paid by the online schools made about $107,000 in state campaign contributions since 2015.

That included $10,000 each for Holcomb, Bosma and the Republican Senate and House campaign committees, while less than $1,000 went to Democrats.

Holcomb and GOP legislative leaders say they will donate those contributions to education organizations — decisions announced after state Democratic Chairman John Zody called acceptance of the money “shady” and “politics as usual for Indiana Republicans to push policy that benefits their deep-pocketed donors.”

Holcomb said the enrollment fraud “dragged on too long.”

“We know there’s been wrongdoing on a scale that I couldn’t have imagined,” Holcomb said. “We’ve got to figure out how.”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 698692

Reported Deaths: 13148
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion953091706
Lake50868931
Allen38607670
Hamilton34028404
St. Joseph33404537
Elkhart26868431
Vanderburgh21948393
Tippecanoe21483212
Johnson17346371
Porter17059297
Hendricks16638309
Clark12600190
Madison12239335
Vigo12109243
Monroe11253166
LaPorte10639204
Delaware10251183
Howard9572211
Kosciusko9009112
Hancock7866139
Bartholomew7807153
Warrick7660155
Floyd7509175
Wayne6849196
Grant6732167
Boone648199
Morgan6341137
Dubois6054117
Marshall5720108
Cass5658102
Dearborn565275
Henry5545100
Noble534983
Jackson489869
Shelby474495
Lawrence4304118
Gibson425788
Harrison425370
Montgomery414686
Clinton413953
DeKalb404183
Huntington373180
Whitley372639
Miami369965
Knox363889
Steuben359657
Putnam350760
Wabash344977
Jasper342246
Adams336852
Ripley332668
Jefferson306779
White306054
Daviess288199
Wells283680
Decatur278092
Fayette276762
Greene268785
Posey267533
Scott258753
Clay250944
LaGrange249670
Randolph233679
Washington228929
Spencer227231
Jennings224347
Fountain207245
Sullivan207241
Starke199452
Owen191056
Fulton189139
Jay184829
Carroll184520
Perry178536
Orange175852
Rush169424
Vermillion165543
Franklin164835
Tipton160743
Parke143516
Blackford132130
Pike129634
Pulaski112445
Newton102434
Brown98940
Crawford96814
Benton94913
Martin82115
Warren78715
Switzerland7688
Union69510
Ohio55411
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1039455

Reported Deaths: 18827
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1205361345
Cuyahoga1051802040
Hamilton774991164
Montgomery49566984
Summit44613904
Lucas39235757
Butler37466566
Stark31150890
Lorain23831467
Warren23725291
Mahoning20653581
Lake19760360
Clermont19325226
Delaware17811130
Licking15996205
Fairfield15520195
Trumbull15412458
Medina14693255
Greene14510233
Clark13455287
Wood12575182
Portage12183193
Allen11225229
Richland10924197
Miami10470211
Muskingum8653127
Columbiana8482225
Wayne8463209
Pickaway8394120
Tuscarawas8317239
Marion8302135
Erie7434153
Ross6650145
Hancock6608123
Geauga6462146
Ashtabula6374163
Scioto625699
Belmont5523158
Union551747
Lawrence5439102
Huron5237112
Darke5229121
Jefferson5223147
Sandusky5096118
Seneca5050118
Washington5031107
Athens494854
Auglaize470684
Mercer467984
Shelby453489
Knox4339108
Madison417957
Putnam417698
Ashland409186
Fulton402565
Defiance396396
Brown383955
Crawford3827100
Logan370076
Preble368295
Clinton357459
Ottawa352278
Highland345058
Williams318274
Champaign317355
Jackson305051
Guernsey303448
Perry286949
Fayette276348
Morrow272639
Henry261866
Hardin261163
Coshocton256057
Holmes251799
Van Wert237562
Gallia232146
Pike231031
Adams226251
Wyandot224553
Hocking207057
Carroll187846
Paulding167638
Meigs140938
Noble131837
Monroe128541
Morgan105822
Harrison104836
Vinton81013
Unassigned01
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Rain showers taper off throughout Sunday evening. Temperatures overnight will drop into the mid to low 40s. Monday, expect more clouds in the morning, with a littler clearer sky in the afternoon. Isolated rain showers possible on Monday. Highs around 60 on Monday.
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