HARRISBURG - Poor oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Education has led to widespread problems within the state's highly touted effort to put computers in classrooms, according to a new state audit.
The audit released yesterday of the Classrooms for the Future project found inadequate public disclosure, inconsistent grant funding, and insufficient review of equipment purchases and program results.
"While the program in theory is a good one, the Department of Education needs to do a better job monitoring it; the process needs to be more transparent," Auditor General Jack Wagner said yesterday.
The Rendell administration launched Classrooms for the Future in 2006 to provide laptop computers, high-speed Internet access, software, teacher training and support to high schools in the state's 501 school districts.
The goal of the $200 million program was to put computers in all high school classrooms by 2009. So far, only 30 of 447 school districts participating in the three-year program have received full funding, in part because of high demand and because funding was cut in half this year, according to Michael Race, a Department of Education spokesman.
The Philadelphia School District was among the school districts that received its full allocation, $9.4 million.
A Rendell spokesman said additional funding would be included as part of the governor's proposed 2009-10 budget.
The audit found that 145 districts rejected initially were not told why they were rejected, and that the Department of Education did not follow up with the 50 districts that did not apply for funding.
Among the report's other findings:
The Education Department did not fully explain how grants were awarded or the details of the funding formula used.
The department did not fully monitor how districts purchased equipment or whether they protected it adequately from theft.
State education officials have not developed plans to sustain the program if it shows positive results.
The audit recommends that the department implement an internal monitoring process to ensure that schools receive the right quality and quantity of equipment.
Race said the audit overlooks procedures and outreach efforts that exist.
"It fails to give us credit for some things we have done in terms of monitoring and security," said Race. "There are protocols for all of that - monitoring and accountability."
Race said the department had no specific plans to respond to the report's findings.
"We are always willing to discuss additional monitoring if [the auditor general] has specific ideas, and we will continue to track effectiveness of the program," he said.