A financial audit of several federal programs at the Mississippi Department of Education found significant deficiencies and material weaknesses in the Department’s accounting and program administration last fiscal year, auditors told members of the State Board of Education on Thursday.

CliftonLarsonAllen, a Minnesota-based accounting firm, was tasked with auditing certain funds of the Department after officials overspent federal Title IV funds, also known as 21st Century Community Learning Center funds.

As a result of the error, three department employees were fired and only 28 school districts and organizations received federal funding for after-school programs for low-income students this school year, compared to more than 100 the previous year.

The audit covered most of the Department’s federal funds along with Education Enhancement Funds, which are state funds appropriated for classroom supplies, materials and equipment for eligible teachers.

In addition to problems with accounting practices, Bill Early, partner at CliftonLarsonAllen, told the board there were “untimely delays” during the audit and that the Department was not adequately prepared for the audit. Early said, however, there had been adjustments by the MDE staff since the firm started the process in October.

“The external audit findings confirm the results of the internal investigation the MDE conducted immediately following the discovery of mismanagement of 21st Century funds in August 2016,” said Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education.

“We have already taken significant actions to correct the problems cited in the audits, and are continuing to implement measures to ensure that all state and federal funds are managed with fidelity,” she said.

Wright said she has made “key personnel changes” to ensure increased oversight of federal programs.

The Department has also completed several corrective actions, including: beginning a reorganization of the accounting department; partnering with the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration and an outside consultant to revise accounting practices; developing executive-level approval measures and multi-level review and reconciliation processes for all grant activity; and providing grants management professional development to staff members.

Early told the board he will be releasing final copies of the audit findings Friday.

The board also approved setting the cut score, or passing score, for the current version of the 3rd grade reading test at 14 points. The test contains a total of 48 points. In the 2018-2019 school year, however, the bar will be raised, and 3rd graders must score a 22 or higher to continue to 4th grade.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.