The report included findings on data procedures and scholarship purchase returns, both of which have been fixed by the organization, while more broadly concluding: “Our audit procedures and tests of selected Step Up records and accounts found that Step Up generally complied with the applicable provisions of State law.”
The audit covered Step Up’s administration of four state-authorized scholarships in 2018-19: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for K-12 students from low-income and working-class households; Gardiner Scholarships for students with special needs; Hope Scholarships for students who have been bullied in public schools; and Reading Scholarship Accounts that provide help for elementary public school students who are struggling in reading. Collectively, the programs served about 116,000 students that year.
The first finding related to Social Security numbers. The auditor said Step Up was not fully notifying Tax Credit Scholarship applicants of the purpose and authorization for collecting student Social Security numbers. It also questioned whether Step Up was sufficiently restricting internal computer access to such numbers. The organization responded by adding a new notice to all families when the 2020-21 scholarship application season opened in January. It also embarked on a review of database permissions for every staffer, limiting access to Social Security numbers to only those whose job required it, and creating a new process for constant review.
The second finding was with the Gardiner Scholarship, which allows students to spend money on a variety of educational needs beyond just tuition and fees. The report said Step Up was sometimes failing its own policy of posting a timely credit to each student’s account when a household returned a purchase made through authorized online vendors. The audit found 22 returned purchases worth a total of $16,327 that were not credited back within Step Up’s 14-day guideline. By way of comparison, that same year, 2018-19, Gardiner students spent a total of $21.9 million on instructional materials. Step Up reported the problem was remedied with automation.
In his formal response, Step Up president Doug Tuthill thanked auditors for their professionalism and wrote that: “We value the insights and recommendations that contribute to process improvements that strengthen our organization.”
Step Up For Students hosts this blog.