Hal Heiner: JCPS use of Every 1 Reads money ‘very concerning’ - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Hal Heiner: JCPS use of Every 1 Reads money ‘very concerning’

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Hal Heiner in his office on Feb. 22, 2016 (WDRB News photo) Hal Heiner in his office on Feb. 22, 2016 (WDRB News photo)
The Kentucky General Assembly has given JCPS $5.7 million for Every 1 Reads since 2006. In 2008, JCPS diverted the money to pay for nurses The Kentucky General Assembly has given JCPS $5.7 million for Every 1 Reads since 2006. In 2008, JCPS diverted the money to pay for nurses
Louisville Metro councilman Glen Stuckel reads to Erion Parker, 6, at Zachary Taylor Elementary School as part of the Every 1 Reads program on Feb. 16, 2016 (Toni Konz, WDRB News) Louisville Metro councilman Glen Stuckel reads to Erion Parker, 6, at Zachary Taylor Elementary School as part of the Every 1 Reads program on Feb. 16, 2016 (Toni Konz, WDRB News)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- A top state official said Monday he is troubled by a WDRB report showing that $4 million in state funds earmarked for a Jefferson County Public Schools reading program has instead been spent on school nurses.

Hal Heiner, secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said he’s brought the matter to the attention of state Auditor Mike Harmon.

"Anytime you see the rule of law disregarded -- and the budget once passed by legislature is Kentucky law -- when you see that disregarded by someone the funds have been appropriated to and they use it for a purpose other than purpose intended, it's very concerning," Heiner said in an interview with WDRB.

Officials at the Kentucky Department of Education, as well as several Louisville-area lawmakers and at least one member of the JCPS board told WDRB News they were surprised to learn that the Every 1 Reads funds were diverted by JCPS to nurses in 2008.

"It comes down to what those funds intended for," Heiner said. "Many legislators know what Every 1 Reads is for and from what JCPS is currently saying, they took maybe as much as $4 million for one purpose and used it for a completely different purpose. Any misuse of public funds, that's a very serious issue." 

Michael Goins, a spokesman for Harmon, confirmed the conversation between Heiner and Harmon took place following the story WDRB published and aired on Sunday.

"We plan to review the last audit the auditors did on JCPS," said Goins, who added that the previous examination conducted by former Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen didn't drill into the funding of individual programs offered by the district.

"The Every 1 Reads program was not part of the scope of the last examination," Goins said. "Under Auditor Harmon, the role of our agency is if we receive a request to examine or audit a specific area, we will simply follow the data and see where it leads us, no matter how many audits have been done previously."

JCPS spokeswoman Allison Martin told WDRB that the district has always been transparent about “the financials in our reporting.”

State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Democrat from Louisville who serves on the House budget committee, and Reps. Larry Clark and Ron Crimm; Sens. Dan Seum and Gerald Neal; and former Sen. Tim Shaughnessy – told WDRB they had no knowledge of the state funding for Every 1 Reads.

"Too often, there is money allocated for something and it is not being used for that," said Crimm, a Republican from Louisville. "If this money was not used directly for Every 1 Reads to help our kids improve their reading, someone needs to answer for that."

But David Jones Jr., the chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Education, said the “idea that the shift of Every 1 Reads to include nurses is or was a secret is preposterous.”

“Eight years later and with a current state budget of $11 billion and a local (JCPS) budget of $1.5 billion, I am not surprised people don’t remember the specifics of a $500,000 line item,” said Jones, who was not on the school board in 2008-09, but was highly involved with Every 1 Reads.

“If there has been some sort of foot-fault in appropriations law, then there are processes for sorting that out,” Jones said. “If the state wants to audit us again, that’s great. We’ve welcomed them before.”

Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for JCPS, maintains that the state knew – or should have known – that the money has been used for nurse-related costs since the 2008-09 fiscal year, when former Superintendent Sheldon Berman informed the school board that the program would continue under the name “Every 1 Reads More.”

"When the board approved expanding that program to Every 1 Reads More, it allowed the district to be able to use those state funds to fund that healthcare component of Every 1 Reads," Martin told WDRB on Monday. 

She added that JCPS has disclosed how it spent the Every 1 Reads money to the Kentucky Department of Education by uploading information into MUNIS, the state’s financial and personnel database every three months.

"JCPS has always been transparent in how that money was spent," Martin said. "That info was presented every quarter to KDE. There couldn't have been more transparency on behalf of the system to let folks know how that money was spent, why it was spent and for what it was being spent on."

Information provided by the district shows that JCPS updated the state's database quarterly, but Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said the education department would not have known to look for nurses in the system because “funding nurses is different than funding reading or literacy programs.”

The state money has appeared as a line item called “Every 1 Reads” in the Kentucky Department of Education portion of the state budget since 2006. In all, more than $5.7 million has gone to the district for Every 1 Reads.

Martin says uploading the quarterly reports to MUNIS is proof that JCPS notified the state.

"MUNIS is the reporting and accountability system for school systems," Martin said. "That's why it is in place. It's not in place to just have us send data to KDE. It's a reporting and accountability system that we are required every quarter to provide info to KDE."

But Pruitt said Monday that is not a correct assessment of the MUNIS system.

"It is a data collection system," Pruitt said. "It is not an accountability system. Occasionally, we do spot audits on certain items, but the purpose of MUNIS is to collect and store data."

Martin said JCPS “had to file the reports with KDE and they had to reimburse us money us money.”

“If we had not spending that money appropriately, we would not have received reimbursement,” she said.

But Pruitt said since his department was the “flow-through” agency for the funds – meaning they are just passed through KDE from the state budget – there wasn’t as much oversight as there is for other grant-funded programs.

Pruitt says the state will now keep a closer eye on line-items in its budget like Every 1 Reads and require that school districts justify their use of such funds.

“We are going to make sure that the funds are being spent properly and that the funds are being focused in a direction that actually supports student achievement,” he said.

Heiner said he thinks the issue over the Every 1 Reads money brings up a “bigger concern.”

“We need to grow the levels of transparency and accountability within the groups and schools who receive directed funds from the state," he said. 

Heiner, who said he expects lawmakers will take a closer look on the Every 1 Reads item as budget talks progress for the two-year budget that starts July 1, also told WDRB on Monday he was “disappointed” with the mass email Hargens’ sent to JCPS supporters on Friday.

In the email, Hargens urged supporters to call legislators and ask them to restore the $500,000 Every 1 Reads line item, which she said Gov. Matt Bevin did not include in his proposed two-year budget.

“I thought it had an inflammatory tone to it…thought there were inaccuracies that the program was eliminated in the budget when very clearly the budget document that has been submitted, Every 1 Reads is still listed,” Heiner said, pointing out the 'Next Generation Learners' portion of the budget, which clearly lists Every 1 Reads.

In response, Martin said the item is "not in the budget."

"A line item specifically for Every 1 Reads with funding is not in the governor's budget," she said. "It's in a different place in the budget...that is now up to the discretion of the Kentucky Department of Education. Every 1 Reads is listed as one of the possible programs that it can fund."

She added: "The way that information is within the governor's budget, it subjects it to KDE, which it means it would be subjected to cuts, where in the past, Every 1 Reads has never been subjected to cuts."

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached @tkonz on Twitter or at (502)585-0838

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