The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announced Aug. 2 that Denver Public Schools has paid $2,123,811 to the U.S. to resolve a civil False Claims Act investigation into the operation of its AmeriCorps program and its misuse of AmeriCorps funds. DPS also agreed to pay for any outstanding AmeriCorps education awards yet to be distributed, up to around $614,000.
According to the announcement, AmeriCorps is a federally funded network of national service programs that address critical community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks, preparing for disasters and more. AmeriCorps members commit to service for three months to a year in exchange for a living allowance, education awards and other benefits.
To receive an AmeriCorps education award, each member must complete a specified number of service hours, among other requirements, according to the announcement. AmeriCorps grant recipients like DPS are responsible for verifying and certifying those hours to AmeriCorps, which maintains a fund to pay the education awards.
According to the news release, the U.S. alleges that for grant years 2015 and 2016, DPS falsely certified to AmeriCorps that a significant portion of DPS’s members had performed the service hours necessary to qualify for an AmeriCorps education award.
The U.S. contends that six of DPS’s AmeriCorps programs weren’t eligible to receive $557,200 in direct AmeriCorps funding and that AmeriCorps dispersed $858,674.18 in education awards based on false certifications from DPS for those six programs. The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted the government contends DPS recruited its existing employees for those AmeriCorps programs and then improperly counted as AmeriCorps service hours the time those members actually spent on their duties as DPS employees, and not on service.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announcement says inadequate training, supervision and record-keeping contributed to DPS’s misuse of AmeriCorps funds. A former DPS manager admitted they intentionally “pushed the envelope” in ways that led to violations of AmeriCorps rules, according to the news release. DPS terminated and accepted resignations from employees who managed the AmeriCorps grants and falsely certified education awards.
“Denver Public Schools used millions of federal dollars from AmeriCorps in ways that violated the basic rules of the AmeriCorps program,” Matthew Kirsch, attorney for the U.S., said in the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release. “Its misuse of those funds interfered with AmeriCorps’ core mission — to give students more educational resources.”
“By enrolling teachers as AmeriCorps members, DPS deprived its at-risk students of the additional educational support they were entitled to receive from national service members,” said AmeriCorps Inspector General Deborah Jeffrey in the news release. “Double-counting teachers’ paid work as national service hours meant that the community received no net benefit from AmeriCorps funding.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted this civil settlement resolves the claims under the False Claims Act against DPS and recovers funds improperly used by DPS. Under the terms of the settlement, DPS will immediately pay $2,123,811 to the U.S., and will agree to pay any outstanding education awards not yet distributed for the affected programs, which may reach $614,000. The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted that, as contemplated by the False Claims Act, the amount paid by DPS includes a multiplier of the losses sustained by AmeriCorps.
This matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Licht for the District of Colorado. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado and the AmeriCorps Office of Inspector General worked together to resolve this matter.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office noted claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only and DPS doesn’t admit liability as to the government’s claims.