Native Hawaiian Education Act:

Greater Oversight Would Increase Accountability and Enable Targeting of Funds to Areas with Greatest Need

GAO-08-422: Published: Mar 25, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 2008.

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The Native Hawaiian Education Act (NHEA) seeks to develop innovative educational programs to assist Native Hawaiians. The Department of Education (Education) administers NHEA and has provided grants for a wide range of activities. Education is authorized to establish a Native Hawaiian Education Council and seven island councils to help implement NHEA. To inform reauthorization, GAO was asked to analyze (1) what is known about NHEA's impact on Native Hawaiian education, (2) Education's efforts to oversee NHEA grants, and (3) the extent to which Education and the Native Hawaiian councils have fulfilled their roles and responsibilities. To do this, GAO reviewed federal laws and regulations and departmental documents, and interviewed Education officials, council members, grantees, and experts in Native Hawaiian education.

Little is known about the NHEA's impact on Native Hawaiian education. Education has not evaluated NHEA due to its relatively small funding level, about $30 million annually, and academic research that shows educational improvements for Native Hawaiians does not indicate whether NHEA was a contributor to reported gains, such as in preschool enrollment and high school and college graduation rates. Some grantees have reported positive outcomes in education and other areas for Native Hawaiians served by NHEA grants. However, the extent to which NHEA has contributed to these outcomes has not been determined. Education has made efforts in recent years to improve NHEA grant management and oversight, and plans to address other weaknesses in the future. Education has established three performance measures that grantees are expected to use to assess their activities, conducted community outreach, and improved reporting requirements for grantees. However, these performance measures are not applicable to some of the educational outcomes that could result from NHEA's many activities. Moreover, Education has yet to establish a method to track grantee activities, such as how funds have been distributed across activities or islands, and some grantees said that in the past they have received little direction or guidance from Education. Education officials said they plan to address these weaknesses. They plan to reexamine the performance measures and provide additional guidance and technical assistance to grantees this year. Officials also stated that they would like to develop a tracking system to better manage grants funded by NHEA, but could not say specifically when this would occur. The parties responsible for administering NHEA--Education, the Education Council, and the island councils--have not fulfilled many of their respective roles and responsibilities under the act. Education has not provided sufficient oversight to ensure that the Education Council carries out many of its responsibilities under the law, or provided guidance to the Education Council on how to assist island councils represent local interests. The Education Council has not fulfilled its primary duty to collect data on the status of Native Hawaiian education, assess current needs in the different communities, make recommendations for the future use of grant funds, or, until recently, provided Education with the required annual reports on its activities. In regard to the island councils, some have not ensured the adequate representation of local interests, or supported the Education Council in efforts to assess and prioritize local needs and make recommendations to Education. In the absence of complete information on NHEA activities and local needs, Education has not targeted grant funds or reported to Congress on NHEA activities, as required. The overall lack of information about NHEA leaves participants and policymakers in a knowledge vacuum, unable to make informed decisions that will help meet and advance NHEA's goals.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education (ED) has reviewed the Education Council's bylaws and current members to ensure that it is complying with its own rules and laws. In 2010, the interim Executive Director and the chairperson for the Education Council identified new membership and configuration of the Island Councils. In 2011, ED determined that the composition of the Council should remain intact until the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was reauthorized, as reauthorization would affect the composition of the Council. GAO believes this to be a prudent option.

    Recommendation: To enable the department to provide grant funds aligned with local needs and priorities for improving educational outcomes for Native Hawaiians, the Secretary of Education should help ensure appropriate representation on the Education Council by reviewing the composition of the Education and island councils and, if necessary, advising them to appoint members who can ensure that needs are adequately identified across all communities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education (ED) has taken action to meet with the Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) to discuss actions it can take to complete a needs assessment to better identify local needs and priorities. In 2006, the NHEC launched a comprehensive assessment and planning process to formulate a five-year strategic plan to accomplish the mission of the Council. The plan includes assessing the needs and capacity of all NHEC stakeholders and, on September 20, 2011, the Council issued a Needs Assessment Report. Furthermore, ED is in ongoing communications with the NHEC regarding its activities. The NHEC's grant application for 2011-2012 indicated that its proposed efforts with the Island Councils and the planned budget also reflect estimated resources to identify local needs.

    Recommendation: To enable the department to provide grant funds aligned with local needs and priorities for improving educational outcomes for Native Hawaiians, the Secretary of Education should provide guidance to the Education Council on actions it can take to best help the island councils represent local interests and determine local needs and priorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education (ED) agreed with this recommendation and took steps to work with the Native Hawaiian Education Council (NHEC) to conduct a needs assessment to better identify local needs and priorities. In 2006, the NHEC launched a comprehensive assessment and planning process to formulate a five-year strategic plan to accomplish the mission of the Education Council. The plan includes assessing the needs and capacity of all the NHEC stakeholders and, on September 20, 2011, the NHEC issued a Needs Assessment Report. As of 2011, NHEC submitted an annual report to ED for FY 2007-2008. As of August 2012, NHEC had also issued annual performance reports for FY 2009-2010 and FY 2010-2011.

    Recommendation: To enable the department to provide grant funds aligned with local needs and priorities for improving educational outcomes for Native Hawaiians, the Secretary of Education should work with the Education Council to identify and coordinate existing services for each of the islands; determine what needs remain unmet through a transparent, evidence-based process; and ensure that the Education Council provides the department the required annual reports on its activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education (ED) took action to work closely with program applicants and grantees to identify areas to provide needed technical assistance and support. ED has held various workshops, increased technical assistance to grantees over the last three years, and developed monitoring instruments, such as the Desktop Monitoring Guide and Annual Performance Review Guide, to provide direction and guidance to grantees.

    Recommendation: To improve oversight of NHEA grantees, assess program activities, and fulfill Education's reporting responsibilities, the Secretary of Education should provide additional direction and guidance to NHEA grantees to help them fulfill their responsibilities and meet their stated goals, including their reporting requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Education (ED) stated that developing a separate system to track grant funds in greater detail would be very burdensome on grantees and would require data that other programs do not require. Our recommendation was not intended to have ED track the fiscal expenditures of grantees but to track how funds are allocated across islands and the 11 activity categories authorized by law. Given that ED is required under the law to report to Congress describing the allocation and use of funds under NHEA, we continue to believe that tracking funds across NHEA activity categories and islands is necessary for ED to fulfill its statutory responsibilities. The agency's report to Congress provided an overview of the types of programs and activities funded by the program and a list of grantees awarded NHEA funds, however, it did not provide specific information on how the grant funds were allocated and used.

    Recommendation: To improve oversight of NHEA grantees, assess program activities, and fulfill Education's reporting responsibilities, the Secretary of Education should expedite development of a method to track how grant funds are allocated and spent across islands and activities, and include in its report to Congress a time frame for when development will be completed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Education (ED) has taken steps to review and broaden the Government Performance Results Act (GPRA) measures. ED entered into a contract with WESTAT to examine existing GPRA measures to determine if measurements were appropriate. WESTAT proposed the revised measures and, in August 2010, ED reported that it revised the GPRA measures to reflect progress on the programs and services funded by NHEA grants. Revised performance measures were included in the 2009 Notice Inviting Applications package (February 2009). On September 29, 2009, a guidance document outlining procedures for reporting data was electronically forwarded to 2009 grantees. The revised measures may not cover some activities funded by NHEA, such as those related to postsecondary education and curriculum development, however, ED has taken action to review and broaden the performance measures, as recommended.

    Recommendation: To improve oversight of NHEA grantees, assess program activities, and fulfill Education's reporting responsibilities, the Secretary of Education should establish additional or broader performance measures to cover the range of educational outcomes that could result from activities funded by NHEA and include in its report to Congress a time frame for when such action will be completed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education (ED) has been taking steps to implement this recommendation. They reviewed the Council's annual plan and reports and asked the Council for additional information. In 2010, ED drafted a report to Congress with an expected completion date on or before October 30, 2010. In 2011, the draft report was reviewed by the Native Hawaiian Education Council. As of September 2012, Education stated that it is incorporating a synopsis of the Needs Assessment and is issuing the final report in December 2012.

    Recommendation: To provide Congress with information useful for program accountability and policy direction, the Secretary of Education should fulfill the statutory responsibility to report to Congress on the activities of the Education Council and the allocation and use of grant funds, with policy recommendations for advancing the education of Native Hawaiians. If necessary, the report could explain why certain reporting requirements could not be met and what steps will be taken to provide the missing information in the future.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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