(RALEIGH) – Documents obtained by the Civitas Institute reveal reports filed by those receiving state and federal grants are limited in length to little more than three tweets – raising questions about how well that spending is being tracked and evaluated.
The software used by the Office of State Management and Budget (OSMB) cuts off the reports after 500 characters. A spokesperson for the OSBM, Christine Mackey, said the character limit was even smaller when reports were handled by the State Auditor. The OSMB expanded them to 500 characters. In an email Mackey wrote “the limit is intended to allow for sufficient space to include all required information while also encouraging answers that are concise and to the point.”
|Samples of Reports|
|Hobgood Citizen Group||$53,793|
|Northern Moore Family Resource||$141,978|
|Caught Before Fallen||$82,363|
|Mount Olive College||$150,000|
Dropout prevention grants are prime examples of the lack of detail and the vagueness of grant reports. The Civitas Institute obtained the reports for the $13 million in grants awarded to 83 organizations in 2009. They are not accessible by the public except through a public records request. The reports from 2009 showed very little detail because of the software limit. Some of the remarks were cut off in mid-sentence. Those very limited reports, however, contain the only evidence of what was done and accomplished with the grant money.
The goal of the dropout prevention grants was to find the best practices to prevent students from dropping out of school. None of the grantees could say any of the students they worked with actually graduated. The grants were only for one year so there was no tracking to see if the methods worked to meet the goal.
Those methods varied. For example, one organization, the Hobgood Citizen Groups, Inc., gave students swimming lessons. Others “were exposed to a formal waitress and waiter banquet where they assisted in the preparation decorations and hosting of the tables.”
Communities in Schools of Rowan County, Inc. contracted with tutors and paid students who completed the program. It goes to report “half of the first group did not earn the entire $300 as we extended the….” The report is cut off mid-sentence by the software limit.
In another case, an “accomplishment” read more like a goal: “by June 2010 75% of participants who scored below grade level on EOG (End of Grade) Science will improve their scores by at least three points.” The next line read only “By” — apparently cut off.
Many of the grant programs sounded like the job description for counselors and dropout prevention coordinators schools already have on staff. Some organizations hired graduation coaches and tutors for one-on-one supervision. In many reports the methods used weren’t even outlined; the reports listed just the number of students served.
The non-profit “Chatham County Together” used a $150,000 grant to hire mentors for graduation projects. It planned to help 180 students but reported many fewer students were referred to the program. The report didn’t indicate how many were finally in the program or the outcome.
The “Caught Before Fallen Dropout Prevention Initiative” answered the question of what it accomplished with “NA.”
Other organizations outlined their methods but didn’t show any results. One grantee, Mount Olive College, terminated a video project and gave some of the money back to the state.
The non-profit Northern Moore Family Resource appeared to have violated the rules of the grants by serving 20 Latino families with children who were not yet in school. The grants were meant only for public school students.
Some grantees didn’t bother reporting at all. Three were suspended for future funding for failing to file reports.
More dropout prevention grants were award in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Those and the ones in 2009 totaled $36 million. The statewide dropout rate dropped a little over 1 percent from 2007 to 2010.
A committee was formed to award and evaluate the results of the grants but it was disbanded before a final report was prepared.