Teach For America Learns A Lesson

Teach for America is an organization that helps recruit and place bright college graduates and professionals as temporary teachers in needy schools. The non-profit group wins lots of kudos for its intentions and work. It has grown from modest beginnings in 1990: $2.5 million and 500 teachers. Today, the group says it has 5,000 teachers in training – and the 2007 budget was $75 million.

Funding comes from a mix of public and private sources. According to Teach for America's financial disclosures, about a third of its money is your tax dollars – because it comes from local school districts, and state and federal government. But a recent audit by the Education Department Inspector Genera raises the question: Has this group grown too quickly without the proper accounting systems in place?

The I.G. examined just a small slice of Teach for America's federal grant expenses and found the group was unable to properly account for half the money audited. Citizens Against Government Waste spokesman Leslie Paige says that stat is "astonishing."

"The documentation they were asked to provide was not difficult," Paige told CBS News. "We're talking about basic receipts; the same sort of things you provide in business when you go on a trip, or have a conference and keep a list of who attended. This is not heavy lifting when it comes to documentation."

Much of the money in question was spent on teacher training, according to Teach for America. But the I.G. said time and time again that Teach for America was unable to provide sign-in sheets, complete original documents showing rosters, proof that anyone actually attended some of the courses and received certification. In one case, the I.G. said Teach for America was unable to prove that the course even took place at all.

The idea that complete look back on spending of some government grants wasn't possible because of the poor record-keeping has implications for how the group has probably spent lots of other private and public funds, according to Paige. And it makes it impossible to gauge whether the tax dollars were spent on what they were supposed to be, and whether they accomplished designed goals. "It may be a great program," says Paige, "but how would we know that because they don't provide us any opportunity to gauge what they've done was legitimate. How do you prove that what you are spending the money on is working? And that what you are trying to achieve is actually being achieved if you can't prove how you spent the money."

Teach for America says there is no waste or fraud involved, just poor bookkeeping, and that they've installed new accounting systems to avoid future problems.
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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