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    Subject Term: "Educational grants"

    9 publications with a total of 22 open recommendations
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to expand its performance measures for the 21st Century program to address all program objectives. Specifically, Education should establish performance measures related to key behavioral, including student attendance and disciplinary incidents, and socio-emotional outcomes.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with our recommendations; rather, it generally noted that it will keep our recommendations in mind as it continues to implement changes in the program as a result of ESSA. Specifically, the department stated that it is in the process of re-examining whether additional or revised measures should be developed to align more significantly with the program's statutory objectives under ESSA. Education also expressed concern about collecting data on student attendance and disciplinary measures, noting that it will require effective collaboration between states, districts, and other eligible entities. However, we note that about half of states already collect data on at least one of these two measures; and that research has shown that 21st Century programs more often have positive effects on student attendance and reducing disciplinary incidents than on improving students' academic outcomes. Given these effects, we continue to believe that it is critical for Education to measure student attendance and disciplinary incidents to obtain more complete, accurate information on this program's effect on student outcomes.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to conduct federal-level data checks on the accuracy of 21st Century program data submitted by states. Such checks could test for logical relationships between fields. Education should also publicly disclose and address any data limitations it identifies, as appropriate.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education commented that it plans to build in additional data checks into the data system beyond its current checks on the data's completeness. Specifically, Education anticipates that new technology enhancements in the data system will be designed to flag for inconsistencies in data reporting. For example, the system may send a "flag" that participation data is significantly lower or higher than previously reported participation data. Further, Education indicated that it will consider whether auditors performing audits under the Single Audit Act can be asked and guided to do more checks on the accuracy and reliability of 21st Century program data.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to provide written, non-regulatory guidance to states on developing and conducting high-quality 21st Century state evaluations to help address the difficulties states face in measuring program performance and effectiveness.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education outlined several steps it has taken to assist states in the past. For example, Education said that it provided six states with individualized technical assistance on strategies related to developing statewide evaluations and measures. Education also noted that, to date, it has conducted two webinars on state evaluations and is in the process of including presentations from those webinars on its online learning portal so that states will have easy access to the information. In addition, Education stated that it included presentations on evaluation strategies in the past during its Summer Institute. Education also said it would consider whether additional guidance for all states was needed. While these are important steps, we do not believe they are sufficient. We continue to believe that Education should prepare written guidance to assist all states in developing and conducting high-quality program evaluations.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should direct the Office of Academic Improvement to use the information it collects from its monitoring visits and ongoing interactions with states to share effective practices across states for sustaining their 21st Century programs once program funding ends. This information could be shared using existing mechanisms such as Education's meetings with 21st Century state coordinators.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Education noted that it hosts meetings twice a year for 21st Century state coordinators where strategies related to program sustainability are shared with states. These meetings covered topics such as reducing the amounts of 21st Century grant awards by a percentage each year. However, these meetings have not focused on topics on program sustainability for several years. We continue to believe that Education should take the lead in sharing information with states to help them address their sustainability challenges by sharing information on state policies and practices that have shown some success.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance its oversight of discretionary grantee performance, the Secretary of Education should direct the Risk Management Service (RMS) to work with principal offices, as appropriate, to establish and implement detailed written supervisory review procedures for official grant files to provide reasonable assurance that grant staff perform and document key monitoring activities.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education substantially agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted that it planned to establish a standard operating procedure for grant file reviews, including a protocol for the review of these files to ensure that monitoring efforts are documented appropriately.
    Recommendation: To enhance its oversight of discretionary grantee performance, the Secretary of Education should direct RMS to work with principal offices, as appropriate, to develop guidance for grant staff on using the PAM Module to share information on grantee performance. Such guidance could clarify expectations about when staff should use the "Issues" and "Notable Results" tabs while monitoring grantees once the transition to electronic grant files is complete, and clarify the types of information staff should enter about grantee performance.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Education substantially agreed with this recommendation. The agency noted that it planned to reinforce through grant administration trainings the importance of sharing grantee performance information agency-wide, including in the PAM Module.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To strengthen states' monitoring and facilitate local MOE compliance, the Secretary of Education should prioritize technical assistance and information sharing across states on ways to facilitate local MOE compliance with respect to the use of the four calculation methods and the exceptions.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2016, Education officials reported that the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has been working on guidance on local educational agency maintenance of effort (LEA MOE) and intends to issue an expanded question and answer document by the end of 2016. In addition, the officials reported that the OSEP-funded Center for Idea Fiscal Reporting (CIFR) has taken additions steps, including creating an LEA MOE calculator projected for publication in fall 2016. GAO anticipates closing this recommendation when these activities have been implemented.
    Recommendation: To help districts address key challenges in meeting MOE and mitigate unintended consequences that may affect services for students with disabilities, while preserving the safeguard for funding for students with disabilities, Congress should consider options for a more flexible MOE requirement. This could include adopting a less stringent MOE requirement to align with the MOE requirements in other education programs or adding to or modifying exceptions. For example, current exceptions could be changed to allow one-time increases in spending without changing a district's MOE baseline in order to encourage pilot innovations or to allow certain spending decreases (e.g., state caps on teacher benefits), as long as a district can demonstrate the decrease does not negatively affect services.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: Congress has not taken legislative action on this issue.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should develop a risk-based, cost-effective strategy to verify that states are implementing a process for assessing whether any teacher preparation programs are low-performing.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported adding additional questions about states' processes for identifying low-performing and at-risk programs to its annual state data collection form. The Department reported that this revised data collection form was submitted to OMB in April 2016 and was still undergoing OMB review as of September 2017. In the meantime, Education reported that it is conducting a temporary risk-based monitoring approach to determine how states report information on low-performing teacher preparation programs. GAO will monitor Education's efforts to finalize and implement these initiatives.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should study the usefulness of Title II data elements for policymakers and practitioners, and, if warranted, develop a proposal for Congress to eliminate or revise any statutorily-required elements that are not providing meaningful information.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that its regulations published in October 2016 included new Title II data elements related to program quality. However, this action is distinct from our recommendation to assess whether existing fields required by law should be eliminated or revised. During our review, Education officials noted that such data elements could only be eliminated or revised through legislation, rather than regulation. Therefore, we continue to believe that it would be valuable for Education to review the existing data elements required by law and submit a proposal to Congress to eliminate or revise any of these fields, if warranted.
    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should develop and implement mechanisms to systematically share information about teacher preparation program quality with relevant Department of Education program offices and states (including state Independent Standards Boards).

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education reported that, subject to available staff resources, the agency would be designing an internal work group to increase information-sharing about teacher preparation program quality within and outside the Department. As of August 2017, ED reported that actions on this recommendation were pending. GAO will monitor Education's continued steps to design and implement this working group.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure that states are better able to sustain RTT reforms and that Education can effectively support other grant programs managed by the Office of State Support, the Secretary of Education should direct the Office of State Support to fully implement and incorporate into its coordinated technical assistance policies and procedures the types of support that would be useful in sustaining RTT reforms and providing effective support to grantees in other programs supporting education reform that the Office of State Support oversees. These could include: (1) providing individualized technical assistance to states, such as that currently provided by Education program officers; (2) facilitating communities of practice to promote opportunities for collaboration across states; (3) providing professional development (or training) throughout the grant period, as opposed to only during the early stages of the grant; (4) making training more easily accessible by conducting training locally in their respective states, when possible; and (5) to the extent permissible in the context of federal and state requirements and restrictions, exploring the possibility of assisting states in identifying skilled contractors to help implement reform efforts.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2015, Education stated that the Office of State Support drafted a technical assistance plan that is being revised based on stakeholder input. Officials stated that the technical assistance plan addresses all of the suggestions included in our recommendation. In September 2017, Education provided a "Draft Conceptual Framework for OSS Technical Assistance Plan" dated March 2016, which the agency confirmed to be a final version. However, this document is a plan that does not show the activities were actually implemented. We will consider closing this recommendation when the agency provides documentation that the activities have been completed.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki,
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to explore and implement ways to raise awareness about the TEACH Grant and the loan forgiveness programs.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In its initial response, Education noted that Federal Student Aid disseminates information about these programs through various channels, such as its website, social media, and materials posted to the Financial Aid Took Kit. Annual in-person training is also provided, as well as online guidance on these programs to Financial Aid Officers at Title IV institutions. In September 2017, Education provided an update of the steps it has taken to increase awareness of the teacher loan forgiveness program. However, documentation is needed to demonstrate that the initial correspondence with borrowers, servicers' websites, and exit counseling include information on both programs.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to take steps to determine why participants are not able to meet TEACH Grant service requirements and examine ways to address those challenges.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In 2017, Education reported that, as a result of its 2016 survey to TEACH Grant recipients whose grant had converted to a loan, the agency determined that grantees faced challenges with recertification, including that the existing certification form was too confusing. To help borrowers, Education plans to create three different forms to help both completers and non-completers meet program certification requirements. We will close the recommendation when the forms are finalized and available to grant recipients.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review the underlying cause of the known erroneous conversions to ensure steps Education has taken are sufficient to address the problem, and establish time frames for transferring the approximately 2,600 loan conversions currently with other loan servicers.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In its initial response, Education noted it has already taken steps to implement this recommendation, such as a comprehensive assessment to identify the causes of the conversions and the grants affected. After identifying the reasons, the agency worked with current grant services to ensure accuracy and make sure they understood program requirements. ED will also work with recipients to resolve issues related to grants that were converted in error. In September 2017, Education provided documentation that the loan conversions were transferred to one servicer in December 2014. GAO is requesting additional documentation on the assessment Education and the servicer conducted on underlying causes of the erroneous conversions.
    Recommendation: To enhance participation in and strengthen management of federal student aid programs for teachers, the Secretary of Education should direct Federal Student Aid's Chief Operating Officer to review the TEACH grant-to-loan conversion dispute process and disseminate to appropriate audiences clear, consistent information on it, including that recipients have an option to dispute, how to initiate a dispute, and the specific criteria considered in the adjudicating process.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: In its initial response, Education noted steps it has taken to address this recommendation. For example, the agency clarified the TEACH grant conversion dispute process, detailing the specific set of criteria under which FedLoan Servicing is authorized to convert loans back to grants. In September 2017, Education reported that it included new language when it corresponds with TEACH grant recipients. However, the information was not included on the servicer's website. We will consider closing this recommendation once that information is provided.
    Director: Jacqueline M. Nowicki
    Phone: (617) 788-0580

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: In order to improve grantees' planning and implementation efforts, increase the effectiveness of grantee efforts to integrate and manage resources, and learn more about the program's impact, the Secretary of Education should clarify program guidance about planning and implementation grants to provide reasonable assurance that planning grantees are better prepared to continue their efforts in the absence of implementation funding. Additional guidance could include encouraging grantees to set aside a small amount of the grant to identify and deliver early, tangible benefits to their neighborhoods.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would communicate to planning grant applicants that implementation funding is contingent on the availability of funds and that it would clarify to grantees that planning grant funds could be used to achieve early, tangible benefits. However, Education has not awarded any new planning grants since 2012. In FY17, ED reported that if new funding becomes available for the Promise Neighborhoods' planning and implementation awards, the Department will emphasize to all interested applicants that grant awards are contingent on the availability of funds and the results of the competitive award process. Education also stated that it would provide more targeted technical assistance to planning grant recipients regarding strategies for continuing grantees' efforts absent implementation funding. In 2015, its technical assistance provider published information on planning for growth and sustainability of Promise Neighborhoods.
    Recommendation: In order to improve grantees' planning and implementation efforts, increase the effectiveness of grantee efforts to integrate and manage resources, and learn more about the program's impact, the Secretary of Education should develop and disseminate to grantees on an ongoing basis an inventory of federal programs and resources that can contribute to the Promise Neighborhoods program's goal to better support coordination across agency lines.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would work with its technical assistance providers to create a mechanism to distribute a comprehensive list of external funding opportunities, programs and resources on a regular basis to better support the grantees' implementation efforts. In FY15, ED reported that the program office held a grantee meeting in July 2015 featuring at least three workshops on sustainability and leveraging additional funding sources. The program office also had a website (promiseneighborhoods.ed.gov) with a number of resources under the "toolbox" tab that can assist interested programs in financing their ongoing needs. While the workshops and web resources were good first steps that can assist grantees, GAO maintains that Education, rather than individual grantees, is best positioned to develop and share such an inventory of federal programs that relate to the goals of the Promise Neighborhoods program. Without such an inventory, Education may be missing opportunities to better support grantees; find other federal program for future coordination efforts; and identify potential fragmentation, overlap and duplication at the federal level. In FY17, Education did not provide any updates on this recommendation, nor has it provided such an inventory.
    Recommendation: In order to improve grantees' planning and implementation efforts, increase the effectiveness of grantee efforts to integrate and manage resources, and learn more about the program's impact, the Secretary of Education should develop a plan to use the data collected from grantees to conduct a national evaluation of the program.

    Agency: Department of Education
    Status: Open

    Comments: Education stated that it would consider options for how and whether it can use the data collected from grantees to conduct a national evaluation. As a first step, Education said it would conduct a systematic evaluation of the reliability and validity of the data. In its 2016 Notice of Funding Availability for Implementation Grants, Education acknowledged that grantees have struggled to collect the full range of data necessary to conduct meaningful evaluation activities and emphasized the importance of helping grantees develop robust data systems. In addition, in its agency comments, Education had stated that it had not received sufficient funding to support a national evaluation. In FY2017, ED provided documentation of its request for funding for conducting an evaluation and the response to the request. However, the entity within ED that is responsible for impact evaluations maintains that it has no plans to conduct an impact evaluation, given that grantees were not randomly selected. GAO agrees that the program was not designed for impact evaluation, however, as we reported, there are other options for evaluating such programs that can provide meaningful information about how well grantees are addressing the problem of poor student outcomes in impoverished neighborhoods. Not evaluating the program limits Education and other agencies from learning about the extent to which model is effective and should be replicated. Developing an evaluation plan would provide critical information about the resources required to conduct an evaluation, and could better inform future funding requests for such an evaluation.
    Director: St James, Lorelei
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As part of the development of a national maritime strategy and a national freight strategic plan, the Secretary of Transportation should direct MARAD--in consultation with maritime industry stakeholders--to study and identify any potential problems in ensuring that U.S. mariners are adequately trained to meet the needs of the entire maritime industry, including the domestic waterways. Public forums, such as MARAD's roundtable discussions, could serve as a means for gaining industry input on potential training issues.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: On April 7, 2017 GAO requested an update on the status of MARAD's position on whether or not the recommendation would be implemented. In June 2016, MARAD indicated that it had not made this determination. In response to GAO's latest inquiry, MARAD indicated that it was in the process of checking on whether any action had been taken within the agency to implement the recommendation.
    Director: Gootnick, David B
    Phone: (202) 512-3149

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: In order to improve the ability of the U.S. agencies participating in the Joint Economic Management Committee (JEMCO) and Joint Economic Management and Financial Accountability Committee (JEMFAC) to conduct required oversight of compact funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of Insular Affairs, as Chairman of JEMCO, to coordinate with other JEMCO-member U.S. agencies to have JEMCO take all necessary steps, or, as the administrator of compact grants, to directly take all necessary steps, to ensure that the FSM (1) completes satisfactory plans to address annual decrements in compact funds, (2) produces reliable indicator data used to track progress in education and health, and (3) addresses all single audit findings in a timely manner.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: JEMCO accepted decrement plans from the FSM which addressed one element of the recommendation. However, as of June 16th, 2017 the other parts of the recommendation have not been addressed.
    Recommendation: In order to improve the ability of the U.S. agencies participating in the JEMCO and JEMFAC committees to conduct required oversight of compact funds, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of Insular Affairs, as Chairman of the JEMFAC, to coordinate with other JEMFAC-member U.S. agencies to have JEMFAC take all necessary steps, or, as the administrator of compact grants, to directly take all necessary steps, to ensure that the RMI (1) completes satisfactory plans to address annual decrements in compact funds, (2) produces reliable indicator data used to track progress in education and health, and (3) addresses all single audit findings in a timely manner.

    Agency: Department of the Interior
    Status: Open

    Comments: JEMFAC accepted decrement plans from the RMI, which addressed one element of the recommendation. However, as of June 16th, 2017 the other parts of the recommendation have not been addressed.