Our review of the management of the California Indian Education Center program (program) by the Department of Education (department) found that:
Despite established guidance, the Department of Education (department) has not adequately administered the California Indian Education Center program (program) and consequently cannot ensure that the program is successfully meeting the goals established in law or the needs of the communities it serves. To address the challenges facing American Indian students enrolled in California's public schools—low academic achievement at all grade levels, high dropout rates, and few students continuing their education beyond high school—the Legislature established the program in 1974. The legislation indicated that the California Indian Education centers (centers) should serve as educational resources for American Indian students, their parents, and the public schools. In addition, to guide the operation of the centers, the Legislature established a set of goals, such as improving the academic achievement, self-concept, and employment opportunities of American Indian students and adults. From its initial 10 centers funded by a total of $400,000 in grants, the program has grown to comprise 30 centers that annually receive more than $4.4 million in total funding as of fiscal year 2005-06. If not reauthorized, the program is set to end on January 1, 2007.
The department is required by state law to administer and oversee the program and receives guidance from legislation as well as internal policies. For instance, state law requires the department to collect data annually to measure the academic performance of the students the centers serve and how well the centers are meeting the goals established by law. Additionally, although no regulations govern the program, state law requires the State Board of Education (board) to adopt guidelines for selecting and administering the centers. The guidelines the board adopted in 1975 require, among other things, that centers design their programs after assessing the needs of their respective communities. Internal guidance comes from the department's 2001 Grant Administration Handbook (handbook), which guides the administration of programs funded by grants similar to those used in this program. The handbook stipulates that the department establish a competitive process to objectively select grant recipients, a monitoring plan to ensure that grant recipients appropriately implement the program, and a document retention and filing process to effect stable program administration and clear communication between the department and the centers.
However, the department has largely ignored the existing guidance for administering the program and therefore has little means of determining program effectiveness. For example, until 2005 the department did not ensure that centers reported the annual academic performance data of their students. Further, the department has no record of the centers' needs assessments on file and thus has no way of knowing whether the services the centers assert they are providing are the services most needed by the populations they serve. The department contends that its administrative shortcomings are the result of several factors, including staff turnover and limited resources. Nevertheless, it submitted an evaluation of the program to the Legislature by January 1, 2006, as required by state law. Because the department was slow to start collecting data for the report, however, the evaluation lacks sufficient analysis to adequately support its recommendations to improve the program.
Another indication of the department's flawed administration of the program is its inability to fully justify its basis either for initially selecting centers to receive funding or for determining the annual amount of funding it grants each center. According to the handbook, it should select grant recipients following a competitive process, which includes an objective scoring methodology and independent raters. However, the department could not demonstrate that it used a competitive process to select the most recent centers currently funded. Further, although program staff state that the department's sole basis for computing the amount that each center receives is the amount granted in the previous fiscal year, it has not consistently followed that method. Without a documented selection and funding process, the department is vulnerable to criticism of inequitable treatment and cannot ensure that the program is effectively addressing the educational needs of American Indian students in the State.
Further, the department has not always promptly disbursed funds to the centers. Despite the department's informal policy that it would issue the first of three annual installment payments to centers with approved applications an estimated six to 10 weeks after the governor signs the state budget, in fiscal year 2003-04 the centers did not receive their first grant allocations until December—18 weeks after the budget was approved. Without the expectation of receiving their first allocations within a relatively stable time frame, the centers may not be able to appropriately plan and provide services to their clients.
Finally, the department lacks a monitoring process to ensure that centers spend funds appropriately, pursue program goals, and report accurate data. Without operating policies and procedures outlining how staff should consistently administer the program, the department may create confusion among the centers. The department indicates that it is attempting to improve its administration of the program by proposing more detailed legislation to reauthorize the program and by developing a plan for monitoring the centers, but these efforts are too preliminary for us to assess.
To ensure that it administers the program clearly, consistently, and effectively, the department should develop operating policies and procedures specific to the program and train staff in their application. The policies and procedures should include the following:
The department generally agreed with our recommendations but provided additional information.