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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Legislators are seething over a state audit accusing two virtual schools of cheating the state out of $68 million.

The State Board of Accounts says Indiana Virtual School and Indiana Virtual Pathways Academy claimed credit for nearly 8,000 phantom students in their final two years of operation.  Auditors say the schools’ enrollment counts, which determine how much money schools get from the state funding formula, included students who had requested information about the schools but never actually enrolled. The report says one student was dead and still got counted — two years in a row.

The State Board is also demanding an additional $86 million In bills for goods and services which weren’t properly documented — in some cases to companies connected to the schools’ operators.

The State Board of Education shut down both schools in July as questions mounted about the enrollment figures.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and House Democrats blast the Daleville Community Schools, which issued the virtual schools’ charters, and the Department of Education for not spotting the discrepancies sooner. The audit charges the schools had a handful of nonexistent students from IVS’s first year in 2011. The enrollment inflation leaped into the hundreds in 2016, then to the thousands the following year. 

But Indianapolis Representative Ed DeLaney charges Republicans wrote the rules in a way that was asking for trouble. He says it wasn’t reasonable to expect a small school district to oversee a virtual school program. And he notes while the schools are accused of claiming money for nonexistent students, the $68 million figure also includes students who really did enroll, but then never turned on a computer to attend classes. He says the attendance rules left a giant loophole that should have been tightened, and complains Republicans dismissed Democrats’ calls for greater transparency.

And DeLaney notes legislators didn’t pass a law giving authorizers access to virtual schools’ data until 2017. Bosma argues schools already had that oversight authority through their contracts with charter operators. He says he’s still thinking about whether legislators should add more oversight of their own, but says the Department of Education and the local school district are best equipped to keep tabs on virtual schools, and weren’t paying enough attention.

The Board of Accounts says it’s forwarded its report to state and federal prosecutors to assess whether there’s any basis for criminal charges.