Audit advocated for state's adult English programs

Board of Education chairwoman says reports of fraud may have been ignored

SACRAMENTO — The chairwoman of the state Board of Education yesterday called for an independent audit of adult education programs that teach English to immigrants, contending that reports of fraud may have been ignored.

Chairwoman Yvonne Larsen of San Diego and other board members say they fear that federal money kept flowing to grant recipients despite reports that called one program a “complete rip-off” with a school site that turned out to be a vacant lot.

“I’m not making any accusations,” said Larsen.

One of the allegations circulating privately at the board is that several legislators may have pressured the state Department of Education to continue funding troubled adult education programs.

Larsen and the board looked through state Department of Education documents subpoenaed by federal auditors who, with the aid of the FBI, began a probe several months ago of 10 adult education programs in California.

“It’s extremely distressing to read through them,” said Larsen.
“The documents are extensive and troubling.”

In one memo, the state education consultant who found the vacant lot is also quoted as saying another program submitted “phony records .?.?.
all in the same handwriting” to obtain $16,000 in adult education funds for an ineligible private business.

Among the programs being audited is Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, which was accused of helping undocumented residents vote illegally in a 1996 Orange County congressional race in which Democrat Loretta Sanchez ousted incumbent Republican Bob Dornan.

Delaine Eastin, state superintendent of public instruction, told the Board of Education on Thursday she has appointed new managers to correct problems in the adult education program.

The independent audit sought by Larsen, which would probe the funding of adult education programs for the past five years, is expected to be approved at a meeting of the Board of Education this month.

This is the latest round in a power struggle between the 11-member board,
appointed by Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, and the independently elected Eastin, a Democrat who heads the state Department of Education.

Larsen, complaining of being misled by department aides, faulted Eastin for requesting a federal extension of the adult education English program last month without asking for approval from the board.

Henry Der, Eastin’s deputy superintendent, said the board was not notified because the requested extension makes no changes in the adult education plan approved by the board several years ago.

Der said the state is administering $33 million in federal funds this fiscal year for adult education English provided by nearly 400 programs,
operated by community colleges, libraries, the state prison system and others.

The federal auditors are probing 10 nonprofit community organizations.
Only six of the 10 programs in the audit are receiving federal adult-education English grants this year, totaling $2.8 million.

Der said the only pressure from legislators has been to carry out a 1994 state budget provision authorizing nonprofit community organizations to provide adult education English and naturalization services, including administering the test for citizenship.

Der said the department refused to give adult education programs funding for naturalization services, saying that is legally the job of the U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“They told that to members of the state Legislature,” said Der. “They weren’t very happy.”

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