November 19, 2013

THE DC CHILDREN and Youth Investment Trust Corp.is making news again. The nonprofit organization first gained notoriety as the enabler in the scheme by former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D) to defraud the city. Now it has beenchided by federal auditors for its poor administration of the D.C. school voucher program. The critical report raises new questions about the efficacy of the group and whether it is an acceptable vehicle to deliver services to youth.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found major flaws in how the local agency manages the federally funded program that gives vouchers to poor children to attend private schools. The DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., which took control of the voucher program in 2010, “does not effectively oversee participating schools, has not implemented effective policies and procedures, and is unable to efficiently manage day-to-day program operations,” investigators wrote. The audit pointed up such basic failings as the release of a schools directory nine months after the start of the school year. The trust is allowed to use a percentage of the federal appropriation to administer the program.

Ed Davies, the trust’s executive director, said the group had inherited numerous problems from the previous administrators of the voucher program. He said improvements have been made. But the audit covered May 2012 to September 2013; particularly troubling — given the trust’s checkered past — was the failure to file timely financial reports, resulting in what the GAO characterized as “no opportunity for formal oversight of federal dollars.”

The trust was established in former mayor Anthony A. Williams’s administration as a way to leverage public dollars to raise private dollars for services to help the city’s youth. The reality, though, is that the vast majority of its budget is public money, a combination of local and federal dollars. Mr. Davies and a spokesman for the Gray administration said that the trust has undergone changes — both in leadership and in fiscal reforms — since the scandal that allowed Mr. Thomas to steal more than $350,000 in city funds.

The people most hurt by the trust’s shortcomings are the low-income, minority students who stand to benefit from the voucher program. The GAO findings should prod the D.C. Council to undertake its own examination of what the trust delivers for the public’s dollar.