Colleges go after aid-stealing ‘Pell runners”

Online classes make it easy for “Pell runners” to collect federal aid and vanish. Often scammers recruit fake students who share their Social Security numbers for a cut of the proceeds.

Ex-superintendent gets 3.5 years for test scheme

Lorenzo Garcia, former superintendent in El Paso, has been sentenced to sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for fraud for manipulating test scores to collect $56,000 in bonuses and misleading the school board to steer a $450,000 no-bid contract to  his mistress.

Garcia, who was hired in 2006, worked with administrators to pre-test 10th graders and assign low scorers to ninth or 11th grade, so their scores wouldn’t be counted in the critical 10th-grade year. After repeating ninth grade, students were moved to 11th grade. Older students were told to drop out and get a GED.

In some cases, when the district needed to improve its graduation rate, it gave students credit for computer-based classes or “turbo-mesters,” which were 90-minute sessions in which students earned a full semester worth of credits.

“One girl got two semesters in three hours, in the last day of school, while her teacher was collecting books,” said former principal Stephen Lane, one of five people allowed to testify before Briones sentenced Garcia.

When Lane protested Garcia’s methods, he was fired and escorted out of the building by police.

High school test scores rose and El Paso’s rating improved from “academically acceptable” in 2005 to “recognized” in 2010. Then someone noticed all those missing 10th graders.

States link exit exams to college readiness

Eight states have linked high-school exit exams to college-readiness standards such as Common Core and 10 more plan to do so.

After collecting $105,000 in student loans and grants to attend community college, a Pennsylvania man faces fraud charges. The college he allegedly attended would have cost less than $16,000 for a full-time student over three years.

Chicago: Free-lunch fraud includes principals

Twenty-six Chicago Public Schools employees — including 12 principals and assistant principals — stand accused of lying on federal school lunch forms, allowing their total of 45 children to receive free or reduced-price lunches at 40 schools across the district, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Federal lunch forms are used to measure school poverty rates. That creates a stronger incentive to lie than saving money on chicken nuggets and  jello.

. . . every year they trigger a windfall of “hundreds of millions of dollars” for CPS — from reimbursements for lunches, to federal poverty dollars for schools, to state funding,  (Schools Inspector General James) Sullivan noted.

Two suspects admitted “they falsified the forms so the schools their children attended would receive more funding,” Sullivan said. He plans to investigate whether school officials are encouraging the students’ parents to lie on school lunch forms.

Teacher certification fraud charged

Aspiring teachers paid a Memphis school official to find substitutes to take a teacher certification exam, prosecutors charge. Clarence Mumford, 58, is accused of charging $1,500 to $3,000 per test. The scam involved at least 50 teachers and would-be teachers required to pass the PRAXIS in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas from 1995 to 2010, according to the indictment.

Mumford is charged with mail fraud, wire fraud, social security fraud, aggravated identity theft, and fraud in connection with fake ID’s created for the test takers. So far, none of the cheaters has been charged.

‘Pell runners’ steal $1 billion in aid

“Pell runners” — scammers who scram once they’ve collected their federal grants — are having a tougher time, but they still manage to steal an estimated $1 billion in aid annually.

Financial aid cheats target online programs

Financial aid fraud rings are targeting online programs. It’s easy to enroll straw students and apply for federal aid if nobody has to show up in person.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Annoyed by credit-card spam generated by his college’s partnership with a debit-card company — the high-fee card is also the student ID card — a student joked on Facebook about porn-spamming the college site. He was suspended for the year.

Was short seller tipped on regulation?

Education Department officials should be investigated for tipping a short seller about regulations that drove down for-profit colleges’ stocks, charges Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma. The charges are based on documents discovered by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Colleges are trying to detect ghost students who enroll — often online — cash their aid check and vanish.

Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud’

A now-retracted study linking autism to vaccine was an “elaborate fraud,” concludes an investigation published by BMJ, a British medical journal.

The study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, “misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study,” charges investigator Brian Deer. Of the 12 cases in Wakefield’s paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism, said Fiona Godlee, the journal’s editor.

Wakefield received $674,000 from lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers, BMJ reports.  He also hoped to make money from  diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues, said Godlee.

Wakefield was stripped of his medical license earlier this year.

“Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession,” BMJ states.

The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80 percent by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.

Measles cases are up in the U.S. as well, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 90 percent of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown.

“But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it,” the BMJ editorial states.

Evidence of fraud isn’t likely to change the minds of true believers. The damage continues.

GAO softens for-profit college report

For-profit college recruiters lied about potential earnings and deceived applicants about loans, charged undercover investigators in a Government Accountability Office report released Aug. 4. Now the GAO has changed key passages, reports the Washington Post. All the changes make the for-profit recruiters look better.

For example, the original report charged a recruiter with telling the investigator that some graduates in architectural and civil drafting earn $120,000 to $130,000 a year. The GAO notes that 90 percent of drafters earn less than $70,000. In the revision, the recruiter adds that in the current economic climate, starting pay is only $13 to $14 an hour, $15 an hour if a graduate is “lucky.”

In another case, the original report said a recruiter had inflated salaries for massage therapists. The revision admits the recruiter gave an accurate figure, but also said that the school’s massage instructors make much more.

More here.