CHOICE SCHOLARSHIP RECONCILIATION: Indiana non-public schools issue state-wide self-study of tuition and financial aid practices
Editor's note: the following is a joint statement of the Indiana Non-Public Association and the Indiana Catholic Conference.
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana's non-public schools today announced completion of a state-wide self-study of tuition and financial-aid practices. John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association (INPEA), said the study resulted in 80 member schools returning today a total of $3,958,747 to the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program. The accounting reconciliation covers the past three academic years, the entire period in which Choice Scholarships have been available to low- and middle-income Hoosier families.
Of that sum, $3,715,517 was returned by Catholic schools, which enroll approximately 60% of all students receiving Choice Scholarships. According to Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, the five Catholic dioceses in Indiana operate 176 schools serving 55,600 students.
"When we discovered through our own review that unintentional errors may have been made in calculating Choice Scholarships, we quickly took action to identify the mistakes, correct them, and return all overpayments to the State of Indiana," Tebbe said. "We are grateful for the Choice Scholarship Program and the educational opportunities it provides financially disadvantaged families, foster parents and students with special needs."
Elcesser said some schools misinterpreted complex guidelines for calculating scholarships, especially as the program changed in each of the three years since its inception.
"Tuition and financial-aid practices are complex and vary from school to school," Elcesser said. "At some of our member schools, honest mistakes were made."
Statewide, 317 schools currently accept Indiana Choice Scholarships. Of these, 80 schools discovered miscalculations, Elcesser said. All of these schools have now reconciled their reports, returned overpayments, and revised their procedures to avoid future problems.
Tebbe praised Elcesser's organization for helping Catholic schools navigate changing school-choice regulations.
"Each Indiana Catholic diocese initiated a program, in collaboration with INPEA, to educate school administrators in the proper implementation of the Choice Scholarship program. When we learned earlier this year that some Catholic schools may have miscalculated Choice Scholarship amounts, the dioceses initiated a statewide review of each school. The public accounting firm Crowe Horwath LLP was engaged to assure accuracy in the review process," Tebbe said.
Most of the errors were based on not recognizing the need to apply parishioner, multi-child and employee discounts before calculating the amount of Choice Scholarships, Tebbe said.
"The Indiana Department of Education and representatives from INPEA and ICC have worked together to clarify guidance and provide training on the proper administration of the Choice Scholarship funds," said Elcesser. "All of us are committed to an ongoing partnership to ensure proper implementation in the best interests of Hoosier schoolchildren."
In addition to reimbursing all overpayments to the state, Tebbe said each diocese will continue to educate its school administrators and conduct regular reviews to prevent future errors.
"Good-faith programs like this will ensure better understanding of the complex rules governing the Indiana Choice Scholarship program," Elcesser said. "Miscalculations have been made as a result of confusion over interpretation of the rules, not a desire to skirt them. Schools have acted promptly to correct mistakes, and are taking proactive steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future."