State audit points to shaky fiscal controls in CSCOPE reporting

Now available for public view due to conservative pressure, CSCOPE continues online services and assessments

Public and private schools spent $74 million to implement and access the CSCOPE curriculum management system over nine years, but recordkeeping of expenditures was inconsistent across state’s 20 Education Service Centers, according to an audit released by the State Auditor’s Office today.

Today’s 55-page SAO audit highlighted a lack of fiscal controls, both internally and externally in contract language with vendors. A spot check by the Auditor’s office showed education service centers, as often as not, failed to tag CSCOPE expenditures properly, signed contracts without sufficient protections and lacked consistent pricing across service centers for CSCOPE services and vendors.

“This is a true statewide cooperative, something really unique that we do,” said spokesman Mason Moses. “We’ve reviewed the audit, and we welcomed the input. It’s provided some very valuable information that we can apply and do better, so that’s what we’re focused on right now, moving forward.”

The average charge for CSCOPE services has been $5 per student, Moses said. Charges have ranged to so widely, however, that some education service centers reported operating at a profit; others reported a loss. And some school districts, such as Marshall Independent School District, were owed a refund because they included pre-kindergarten students in their head count.

The audit noted nothing illegal in the creation of CSCOPE but made a legislative recommendation that education service centers seek approval from the governor and Legislative Budget Board, via the Texas Education Agency, before constructing any statewide curriculum management system. It also recommended the Texas Education Agency develop a list of curriculum management systems that conform to state standards.

CSCOPE, for years a fairly benign statewide project, raised a firestorm of controversy among conservatives last session. Those who reviewed lesson plans accused the writers of the CSCOPE documents of indoctrinating children in socialism, eradicating references to American exceptionalism and, more recently, equating CSCOPE with the national Common Core movement. CSCOPE became a rallying point of liberal bias on commentator Glenn Beck’s cable show.

After a tense hearing before the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) negotiated an agreement with the education service center collaborative to dissolve its non-profit holding corporations and release lesson plans into the public domain. That does not mean, however, that CSCOPE is dead.

School districts, charter schools and private schools continue to pay for CSCOPE’s online services and sample assessments. In fact, the percentage of school districtsusing CSCOPE has barely dipped since the controversy, hovering around 70 percent. CSCOPE now is administered under shared service agreements, Moses said.

Education service centers play a unique role in the state’s educational landscape. TEA has loose oversight of the network of 20 education service centers. Commissioner Michael Williams performs annual evaluations and approves the executive director for each. Beyond that control, however, most ESCs operate as an independent entity with its own governing board and duties.

Every education service center offers professional development for the school districts and charter schools in the region. Some offer co-operative purchasing agreements. A number of individual centers also execute larger Texas Education Agency contracts around big-ticket items such as Project Share, school turn-around grants and the Texas Virtual School Network.

Originally posted by Quorum Report on June 9, 2014.