Traverse City Area Public Schools will have to pay back over $700,000 to the state over allegedly misreported student enrollment.
The Michigan Department of Education notified the district of a discrepancy and asked for the money back last October, but TCAPS appealed it. That appeal was denied Thursday.
The debate is over the Northern Michigan Partnership, an online program for homeschooled students with occasional in-class meetings. TCAPS and the MDE don’t agree on what kind of school it is.
TCAPS says it’s a virtual school program, while the state says it’s a shared-time program. The money the district gets from the state varies drastically depending on which kind of school it’s classified as.
In their appeal, TCAPS said a review of the NMP’s enrollment last February by the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District came out clean.
“The District properly classified Northern Michigan Partnership students as virtual students,” TCAPS’ attorneys said in their appeal.
TCAPS also said the state’s review of their enrollment was done without any input from the district, and they were denied basic due process by the MDE.
Ultimately, the MDE had the final say. In their findings, the MDE says TCAPS didn’t fulfill some of the requirements of being a virtual school, like making classes available to all students in the district.
“There was no documentation of a general plan regarding transportation of full-time pupils from each of the TCAPS elementary, middle, and high schools to the in-person “optional” NMP classes,” the MDE said in their ruling.
Michigan Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Kyle Guerrant says the state is aware this could negatively impact students.
“We’re not excited to have to do this, we never like taking money away from school districts,” Guerrant said. “We also have the responsibility under a statute to ensure that taxpayer dollars and the school aid are appropriated and dispersed according to the law.”
Now TCAPS will have to give back over $700,000 they spent on the Northern Michigan Partnership in the 2017/18 school year.
For now TCAPS Board President Sue Kelly says they can get a state grant to cover that shortfall, but they may have to give back even more money if the state says they misreported enrollment in other years.
“Think what we could do to assist [the district] with that money, but instead the state is gonna take it away from us because the state never got around to help us clarify the point of the program,” Kelly says.
Kelly says the funding and future operation of the Northern Michigan Partnership is up in the air, and they’re currently contacting parents, students and staff in the program.