The audit found that Champion Learning Center was paid $836,254 by the Education Department (DOE) for tutoring services between midnight and 5 a.m.
In addition, from a random sampling of 76 students registered for tutoring, of the $151,435 DOE spent, $22,525, or 15 percent, covered 322 hours that did not have an accurate attendance sheets, meaning they weren't signed by tutors or supervisors working for Champion Learning Center.
“Taxpayers can't afford to write multi-million dollar blank checks for tutoring services that may not have taken place,” Liu said in a statement.
But a Abraham Sultan, a representative from Champion, said the company is taking steps to improve its record keeping and billing, and that the amounts specified in the audit represent roughly 5 percent of the tutoring services it provides to New York City students each year.
The company agreed to strengthen its internal controls to ensure that attendance sheets are properly reviewed and signed.
“As noted in our response to the draft audit report, Champion took steps to improve its internal controls last year and we are taking additional measures to improve the integrity of our record keeping and billing,” Sultan said. “We respectfully disagree with the comptroller’s conclusion that a payment was improper even if services were in fact rendered based upon the hour of the day when they occurred, but will work with the DOE to appropriately resolve those issues."
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, eligible students in public schools who need extra help are provided free tutoring to improve their grades and help them meet state academic standards.
Champion Learning Center was one of 52 tutoring providers approved in the 2009/10 academic year. Champion entered into a $40 million contract with DOE for tutoring services, which take place primarily in students' homes, from September 1, 2009 through August 31, 2012, according to Liu's office.
Those receiving services from Champion Learning include 787 students from John Bowne High School in Flushing, Queens. Liu also criticized DOE for failing to monitor the services properly.
“The DOE's lack of oversight not only shows serious mismanagement but may have also enabled fraudulent billings,” Liu said. “Every education dollar wasted robs students of the education they deserve.”
However, in response to the audit, DOE agreed to recover to the $836,254 paid for tutoring hours in the middle of the night. The department also agreed to investigate the $225,525 paid according to unsigned attendance sheets and recoup that if necessary as well.