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Arizona agrees to reimburse schools for millions of misallocated dollars

(Pixabay Photo)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Department of Education agreed to reimburse schools that were shorted millions of dollars in federal funding for low-income students and special education, misallocations blamed on faulty math.

As part of the finalized agreement between the state and U.S. departments of education, which was announced Wednesday, schools that were overfunded tens of millions of dollars due to the miscalculations don’t have to pay it back.

“In layman’s terms, it was just really having the wrong policies, procedures and processes in place, which led to incorrect formulas,” Arizona Department of Education spokesman Stefan Swiat told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“And those formulas, if left unattended, incorrect, exacerbate over time, and that causes more and more misallocation. And so that’s what we saw.”

The mistakes impacted federal funding from Title I, which supports low-performing districts with high percentages of low-income families, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Swiat said the state will reimburse school districts and charter schools $15 million for IDEA shortages and $8 million for Title I.

“It just goes to show you that you’ve got to study hard in math because it has real-world consequences,” he said.

He said the department will cover the shortages using a pot of funds that weren’t spent or were returned by schools that closed or no longer needed the money.

According to a news release from the office of Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas, the state has changed policy and staffing to ensure that future funding is properly allocated.

Per the agreement, districts and charter schools will be reimbursed for 2014-17 Title I shortages over a period of one to four years, depending on the size of the shortage, starting in fiscal year 2019. Ninety percent of impacted entities will be made whole in the first year, the release said.

IDEA shortages for 2015-17 will be reimbursed through equal payments over five years, starting in 2019.

Swiat said the resolution has been over a year in the making.

“It was everything that we sort of drew up and proposed to U.S. Ed, and they agreed that this was the best course to take,” he said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ashley Flood contributed to this report.

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