Yesterday, the Washington Post's Emma Brown had a report about millions of dollars in funds that could not be accounted for in a draft audit of the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program. As you remember, D.C. Tag is the legislation created by Virginia Congressman Tom Davis to provide financial help to students living in the nation's capital to defray costs of attending public colleges in other areas of the country. The money can also be utilized for tuition for private schools of higher education in the District and to enroll in traditional black universities.
The discrepancies to which Ms. Brown refers involve $5.5 million in 2004 and $4 million in 2008. Now, I'm sure it was exciting to obtain a copy of an unofficial audit but for all of us non-profit managers out there we understand the value of this tool. An audit is conducted to access the health of a financial system and to improve that system based upon the findings. Since the money for D.C. TAG comes from the Federal government, and is therefore public, we dislike seeing problems uncovered. However, the primary purpose of an audit is not to punish but to become stronger. Using the document as a stick provides incentives for people to hide information from those conducting the review, or even worse, from not completing the exercise at all.
Of course, the timing of the story is really meant to cast doubt on whether another scholarship plan should be passed by the D.C. Council. The Promise program, which would provide up to $7,500 in college tuition assistance to D.C. kids, and which is the brainchild of D.C. Councilman Catania, is to go before the body for final approval next month. Ms. Brown has written that passage of Promise could entice Congress to cut off DC TAG funding because it will become obvious that the city has sufficient dollars on its own to support students going to college.
The negative news about DC TAG and the Promise plan come on the heels of stories highly critical of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. So now I get the pattern. Spending on public education is fine as long as it is on neighborhood schools. Charters in the reporters' view are O.K. but the process for enrollment is messy, there are waiting lists for good ones, and closing low performing schools causes disruption.
I really wish that neighborhood schools is all that is needed. But in D.C. and many large urban cities the traditional schools for decades have not been worth attending. School choice and competition for students has finally changed that. For those who write about public education, my advice is to get over it.