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Charlotte Amalie
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HomeNewsArchivesEducation Department Again Returns Millions to Washington Unspent

Education Department Again Returns Millions to Washington Unspent

March 18, 2009 — The V.I. Department of Education has yet again won the dubious distinction of kissing off the most federal dollars per student of any state or territory under the U.S. flag.
On the average, states and territories made good use of most of the federal funds available to them, returning only 49 cents per student. The V.I. department allowed the reversion of $133.37 per student.
That is a thundering 272 times the norm.
The V.I. schools reverted (i.e., failed to use) $2.4 million in U.S. Department of Education formula grants for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to statistics released by that agency. The money went back to the U.S. Treasury.
No other jurisdiction reported a reversion of more than $100 per student. In fact, no other jurisdiction returned as much as $16 per student. The second least-skilled jurisdiction in the use of these federal funds was Puerto Rico, which returned $15.73 per student. Another island territory, Guam, used up all but $1.17 per student of the federal funds available to it.
This is not unusual for the Virgin Islands: In five of the last six years, the territory has led the nation in not using federal education funds on a per-student basis; an exception came last year when it returned only $2,625. (See "Education Department Harbors $2 Million Mystery.") No one in the department could explain to the Source why things worked so well that year.
It should be noted that these unused funds required no match from the Virgin Islands; they were 100 percent federal funds. Further, there was no competition involved; the system did not have to write a better, more appealing proposal than other jurisdictions.
The money was simply there to be used to improve the territory's schools. All the department had to do was ask for it (in the appropriate way) and then account for its spending (again, in the customary manner). As a matter of fact, the U.S. Department of Education has leaned over backwards to make it easier for island territories to get these funds than mainland states. A special program, Consolidated Grants to Insular Areas, eliminates many of the requirements demanded of mainland education departments.
Other territories and states apparently have no trouble meeting the Department of Education guidelines on these matters — hence the difference between reversions of 49 cents per pupil, nationally, and the V.I.'s $133.37 reversion per pupil.
Why does the territorial department do so badly on these matters? What is being done to correct matters?
The Source has asked these questions of the department for years, and has never received a more detailed reply than "no comment." On Monday morning, we sent the underlying federal statistics to the department and asked for its comments. We were told we could have them in the next 48 hours. Then there was a request for another day to respond; we said yes. On Wednesday evening, the Source got this reply from Juel Anderson, the public relations director for the department. We print it in full:
"Mr. North:
"The VI Department of Education has initiated several efforts to improve and guarantee the success of its internal controls. However it is a work in progress and we continue to make improvements as well as meet challenges on a daily basis.
"With reference to your communication regarding the recent reversion of funds, I submit the following:
"The VI Department of Education was made aware of the issue with this particular funding and the potential lapse. A request for a late liquidation was made to the US Department of Education to try and recoup a large portion of these funds and avoid the lapse, but the request was denied due to USDOE's concerns with the VIDE's allowable uses of funds.
"This reversion of funds does not indicate that programs, materials and or supplies were not provided to the schools/students because that is not the case. General fund dollars were used to initially pay for these items, but we could not be reimbursed by USDOE.
"Additionally, to say that we lost $133 per student is incorrect and misguiding. While these funds are provided to benefit student achievement overall, there are several ways in which this is done. The funds we receive are not awarded based on a formula nor are they earmarked solely for students, but also to support various programs such as professional development activities, teacher quality, technology infrastructure, etc.
"I hope you find this information helpful in the completion of your news story."
We leave it to the reader to decide whether this is a useful response to a question involving the loss of more than $10 million over the last five years to the V.I. schools, their teachers and their pupils. That the funds are "not awarded based on a formula" will come as a surprise to the federal Department of Education.
As to the reasons behind the non-use of these funds, we do know from federal sources that the reversions relate to decisions made in the past, and not to recent actions of the V.I. system. Generally these programs — and they are numerous — require that the funds be committed to an approved application within a year or two of their first availability. Then there is a period — again, this varies — of three or four years in which the committed money can be spent and accounted for. After five years, if the money has not been spent, it goes back to the Treasury.
In short, if the funds are not committed promptly, they can't be spent at all.
These funds cannot be used to replace island dollars — they must be used on special programs that Congress has decided are worthwhile. Nor can they be used for repairs to the schools. But every dollar spent helps the education of local children, and every dollar spent is an additional boost to the local economy.
A breakdown of the formula grants not spent in the territory shows a tiny reversion (of $3,740) from money made available to the University of the Virgin Islands in a program to help historically black colleges and universities. A larger sum, $335,498, was not used by the Department of Education from the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program.
The bulk of the money not used by the department was in the catch-all Consolidated Grants to Insular Areas program. The total was slightly more than $2 million.
The department has had problems with such matters for years. (See "V.I. Leads in Losing, Failing to Use School Funds," "Analysis: V.I. Schools Fail To Use $2.9 Million in Federal Funds" and "Education Commissioner Addresses 'Challenge' over Federal Funds.")
The U.S. Department of Education's data on this subject is on the record. It can be found within that agency's Grants Administration and Payment System. The most recent tabulation is headed "FY 2008 Appropriations Monitoring Report/ Discretionary and Formula Funds Reverted to U.S. Treasury as of Oct. 1, 2008, by State." This article deals only with formula funds; the V.I. rarely gets much in discretionary funds, as these involve competitions with other jurisdictions.
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