AFP-Texas: Hasten Sunset Review Process for ESCs

June 10, 2014

CSCOPE audit shows more scrutiny is needed, says policy director Venable. 

AUSTIN — Americans for Prosperity-Texas is calling on the 84th Legislature to move the sunset review process for the Regional Education Service Centers (ESC’s) to 2017.  ESC’s were subject to the sunset review process in 2015 but the 83rd legislature moved the schedule back to 2019.

A state Audit report on CSCOPE, the controversial curriculum management system which was sold by the 20 ECS’s is out this week and makes clear that the ESCs need review.The state audit was requested by Sen. Dan Patrick, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

“This audit report confirms the need for additional scrutiny to be placed on the 20 Regional Education Service Centers in Texas,” said Peggy Venable, policy director for AFP-Texas.

“The ESC’s operated in the dark with little to little to no oversight or supervision,” said Venable.  “For several years, even parents were denied access to the lesson plans, which was in violation of state law.”

The audit report reveals taxpayers paid millions for a program which was unproven, which was not available to parents for review, and which even the elected State Board of Education could not access.

“CSCOPE was a train wreck waiting to happen.  It was managed by a non-profit run by the ESCs but was not subject to public information requests, open meeting laws or any public scrutiny. By shielding their operations this way, the ESCs effectively allowed CSCOPE to operate in the dark without the accountability Texas taxpayers deserve.  It was only exposed thanks to parents who were denied access to the material and teachers who were forced to use what some described as inferior educational material,” said Venable.

The audit report found that the managing non-profit entity (Texas Education Service Center Education Collaborative Collaborative) did not account for expenditures in compliance with internal policies and procedures and Texas Education Agency guidance.

Financial accountability was insufficient, according to the report.  Auditors selected nine of the 20 education service centers for on-site testing. However, weaknesses in the processes and related controls for financial transactions at the education service centers limited auditors’ ability to verify the accuracy of financial transactions related to CSCOPE.

CSCOPE services, including related fees, varied widely among the nine education service centers audited.  School districts, charter schools, and private schools using CSCOPE paid both an annual service fee to the education service center that provides their access to CSCOPE as well as additional fees for teacher training.  There was no consistency in costs charged by the ESCs.
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While the audit report reveals some deficiencies in the ECS’s which may extend beyond the problematic CSCOPE operation, the 20 education service centers reported to auditors that they:

•    Received a total of $73.9 million in revenues from school districts, charter schools, and private schools for CSCOPE-related services and
•    Incurred $67.8 million in CSCOPE-related expenditures.

However, weaknesses in the processes and controls over revenue and expenditure transactions contributed to the 20 education service centers’ inability to identify the total amounts received for CSCOPE or the amounts expended for CSCOPE.

“This is simply unacceptable,” said Venable.  “We need a full review of the operations of the ESC’s as the CSCOPE problems may be the tip of the iceberg.”

The audit conclusions are available here: http://www.sao.state.tx.us/reports/report.aspx?reportnumber=14-034

The full report is available here: http://www.sao.state.tx.us/reports/main/14-034.pdf

NOTE: The Sunset Advisory Commission conducts regular reviews of state agencies to identify and eliminate government waste, duplication and general inefficiencies in state agencies.  The sunset review process is designed to review each of these agencies every twelve years. This review is done by taking up a certain number of the state agencies each time the Texas Legislature convenes.

 

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