The agency whose numerous errors and slipshod record keeping were criticized by state auditors serves as the staff to 22 state boards.
The audit released last week looked at just one: the Kentucky State Board for Proprietary Education, which is responsible for licensing and overseeing for-profit schools.
What the audit revealed is troubling on a couple of levels. First, oversight of the booming for-profit education industry in Kentucky is inadequate.
This should be an urgent concern as the amount of federal financial aid going to for-profit schools has mushroomed — from $4.6 billion in 2000 to $26.5 billion last year. Students at for-profit schools default on federal student loans at more than twice the rate of those at non-profit schools. Officials in Frankfort and Washington routinely hear from students who leave for-profit schools with huge debt but without the marketable skills or transferable credits they were promised.
Legislation to improve oversight of Kentucky's for-profit schools was approved by the House this year but died in the Senate. Attorney General Jack Conway, who is responsible for enforcing consumer protection laws, is investigating Kentucky schools and is also leading a bipartisan group of 10 attorneys general looking at the proprietary education industry.
In Kentucky, students who were burned by the collapse of Decker College in Louisville have been waiting six years to be reimbursed from a state fund that was established to compensate students when schools close.
Auditors repeatedly asked about the Decker situation, but all board members could say was they were not on the board when the school closed in 2005. The board's "sluggish" response and failure to manage the Decker claims "in a timely manner compounded the problems," the audit found.
Kentucky's 122 proprietary schools enroll more than 19,000 students. You'd expect their licensing board to have figured out how to provide the necessary continuity to carry out its statutory duties.
But, auditors found, the board has no orientation program or manual for members and its minutes are too lacking in detail to fill the gaps in historical knowledge.
The board's bush-league performance is due in part to the quality of assistance it receives from the state Office of Occupations and Professions, an agency known as O&P that state boards pay in exchange for administrative staff and services. The boards get their revenue from licensing fees.
The auditors reported that O&P did not reconcile monthly receipts or monitor the accuracy of expenditures reported to the proprietary school board, making the "accuracy of these financial reports uncertain." That was one of many deficiencies documented in the audit.
Which raises the second concern: Are the other boards demanding and receiving better service from O&P? Would an audit of their operations reveal similar weaknesses in oversight?
These boards have important responsibilities. Among the professions they license or certify are dietitians, drug counselors, nursing home administrators, occupational therapists, professional geologists and home inspectors. Boards staffed by O&P oversee medical specialties such as prosthetics and hearing aids.
O&P's executive director, Shannon Tivitt, who has been on the job only since February, has already sent the critical audit to all 22 boards that pay O&P for its services.
That's an encouraging sign that she's not sweeping the problems under the rug. What's needed is some aggressive spring cleaning.