When you spend $9 billion a year on schools, accountability must go beyond student performance. We must also manage money without fraud or waste, maintain our buildings, and fully implement state policies. The Office of Educational Quality and Accountability (EQA) was an independent district and school audit agency established by the Legislature in 2000 as part of the accountability system required by MERA. From 2002 to 2006, EQA evaluated more than 175 school districts, most of which were urban districts, which spent about half of total education dollars in the state.
Opposition from teachers’ unions and urban superintendents led to EQA’s closure in spring 2008. A nascent accountability office designed to replace EQA delivered its first reports in 2009, and since then has not undertaken a single district review. Its reports have been focused on specific issues and have even, in the case of Fall River, whitewashed financial mismanagement within the school system. A simple look at the new accountability office’s two-page annual report gives you all you need to know about the new accountability system: It has no teeth, and it has accomplished next to nothing. (EQA annual reports were much longer and more detailed.)
Given its sizable commitment, the state needs an independent, fact-finding audit agency that evaluates the financial and educational return on that investment. The agency should be empowered to coordinate and streamline the school and district audit process, and also to work in tandem with a much strengthened technical assistance effort by the DESE. The DESE’s ongoing school accountability work needs to be integrated into the district review process, since individual schools do not function independent from the larger school district in which they reside. Given the current insufficient level of funding for audits, this action would like cost an additional million dollars.
Crossposted at Boston.com’s Rock the Schoolhouse blog.