By Brigid Curtis Ayer
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Non-Public Schools Association (INPEA) and the Indiana Catholic Conference (ICC) announced on Dec. 17 the completion of a statewide self-review of tuition and financial aid practices that identified a need to reconcile accounting errors in calculating the Indiana Choice Scholarships.
John Elcesser, executive director of the (INPEA), said the study resulted in 80 member schools returning a total of $3.9 million to the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program. The accounting reconciliation covers the past three academic years, the entire period in which Choice Scholarships have been available to low- and middle-income Hoosier families.
Elcesser said some schools misinterpreted new and complex rules for calculating scholarships, especially as the rules changed each of the three years of the state Choice Scholarship Program. “Tuition and financial-aid practices are complex and vary from school to school,” Elcesser said. “At some of our member schools, honest mistakes were made.”
“When we discovered through our own review that unintentional errors may have been made in calculating Choice Scholarships, we quickly took action to identify the mistakes, correct them and return all overpayments to the State of Indiana,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the ICC. “We are grateful for the Choice Scholarship Program and the educational opportunities it provides financially disadvantaged families, foster parents and students with special needs.”
Tebbe added, “Each Indiana Catholic diocese initiated a program, in collaboration with INPEA, to educate school administrators in the proper implementation of the Choice Scholarship program.” Tebbe said, “When we learned earlier this year that some Catholic schools may have miscalculated Choice Scholarship amounts, the dioceses initiated a statewide review of each school. The public accounting firm Crowe Horwath LLP was engaged to assure accuracy in the review process.”
Most of the errors were based on not recognizing the need to apply parishioner, multi-child and employee discounts before calculating the amount of Choice Scholarships, according to Tebbe.
“The Indiana Department of Education and representatives from INPEA and ICC have worked together to clarify guidance and provide training on the proper administration of the Choice Scholarship funds,” said Elcesser. “All of us are committed to an ongoing partnership to ensure proper implementation in the best interests of Hoosier schoolchildren.”
Catholic schools, which enroll approximately 60 percent of all students receiving Choice Scholarships, returned $3.7 million to the state, said Tebbe. The five Catholic dioceses in Indiana operate 176 schools serving 55,600 students.
Tebbe, who serves as the chief spokesperson for the Indiana bishops regarding public policy matters for the state of Indiana, thanked Elcesser’s organization for helping Catholic schools navigate changing school-choice regulations.
In addition to reimbursing all overpayments to the state, Tebbe said each diocese will continue to educate its school administrators and conduct regular reviews to prevent future errors.
“Good-faith programs like this will ensure better understanding of the complex rules governing the Indiana Choice Scholarship program,” Elcesser said. “Miscalculations have been made as a result of confusion over interpretation of the rules, not a desire to skirt them. Schools have acted promptly to correct mistakes, and are taking proactive steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.”
In 2011, the Indiana General Assembly passed the Choice Scholarship Program allowing elementary and high school students who are income eligible to receive a scholarship to attend a school of the parents’ choice. The program benefits children of lower to moderate income families. Scholarships for elementary school children are up to $4,800 per student. High school students may also receive scholarships.
More than 300 schools statewide accept Indiana Choice Scholarships. Eighty schools discovered miscalculations, Elcesser said. All of these schools have now reconciled their reports, returned overpayments and revised their procedures to avoid future problems. Approximately 3 percent of Hoosier students participate in the program statewide.
“Our schools are committed to the highest standards of financial integrity and good stewardship as they do their due diligence to provide a quality education for the children entrusted to them,” Tebbe said. “The Indiana Choice Scholarship program offers educational choice for low-to moderate-income families across the state that would otherwise not have the opportunity to select a school that best fits the needs of their children.”
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