Department of Education:

Challenges in Promoting Access and Excellence in Education

T-HEHS-97-99: Published: Mar 20, 1997. Publicly Released: Mar 20, 1997.

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GAO discussed the major challenges the Department of Education faces in achieving its mission to: (1) ensure access to postsecondary institutions, while at the same time protecting the financial interests of the government; and (2) promote access to and excellence in elementary, secondary, and adult education.

GAO noted that: (1) although the Department has made progress in ensuring access to postsecondary education and in providing financial accountability, challenges remain, especially in providing educational access to low-income and minority students in an era of rising tuition costs and in protecting the financial interests of the federal government; (2) the student aid programs make available billions of dollars in loans and grants to promote access to education, but these programs continue to be hampered by problems with process complexity, structure, and program management; (3) the student aid process is a complicated one, it has several participants who play different roles as well as various processes for each of the grant or loan programs; (4) the federal government continues to bear a major portion of the risk for loan losses; (5) moreover, management shortcomings, especially inadequate management information systems that contain unreliable data, contribute to the Department's difficulties; (6) the Department also faces challenges in promoting access to and excellence in preschool, elementary, secondary, and adult education programs; (7) through leadership and leverage, the Department works with states and local education agencies to effect changes intended to improve the nation's educational system; (8) demonstrating accountability is dependent on having clearly defined objectives, valid assessment instruments, and accurate program data; (9) in addition, it is unclear whether the Department has the resources it needs to manage its funds, including funds for the proposed Partnership to Rebuild America's Schools Act of 1997 and for helping schools integrate technology into the curriculum to make students technologically literate; (10) similarly, the Department only has selected information on the implementation of the title 1 program, the largest single federal elementary and secondary grant program, for which $7.7 billion was appropriated in fiscal year 1997; (11) thus, the Department does not have the informational basis to determine whether mid-course changes are necessary; (12) in meeting these challenges, the Department will need to improve its management; (13) major pieces of recent legislation provide powerful tools in the form of a statutory framework for improving agency operations and accountability; and (14) the Department has made progress in implementing these laws, but work remains to be done before the goal of improved management can be reached.

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