FAFSA: Your most important ally in the quest for money – Omaha World

It’s time for college-bound high school seniors to apply for federal student financial aid.

The 2018-2019 Free Application for Federal Student Aid opens Oct. 1. With a June 30 application deadline, nearly eight months might seem like plenty of time to apply. But local and federal education officials say it’s important for students to get on the ball sooner rather than later.

The application period allows students to tackle both federal aid and college applications within the same season and gives them more time to choose where they want to go to school — a decision often based on how much financial aid they receive, according to education officials.

Students must submit a FAFSA every year they are in college to determine their eligibility for federal student aid. That aid can include federal Pell Grants, federal student loans and work-study opportunities, said Marty Habrock, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s financial aid and scholarships director. State grants and scholarship applications usually require that a student complete a FAFSA first.

With the change to the FAFSA opening, federal student aid officials also began allowing students and their families to report earlier income information, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student aid website.

High school students should start the FAFSA process as soon as possible, Habrock said. He gave several reasons, including:

• The financial aid application process may be more aligned with the college admission process. Knowing how much financial aid is available earlier can help families make better enrollment decisions, as noted above.

• Along with the earlier application date of Oct. 1, applicants can use their 2016 income and tax information to complete the FAFSA. Because the FAFSA will ask for older income and tax information, applicants will have done their taxes, eliminating the need to estimate tax information. Applicants will be able to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool to automatically import tax information into the FAFSA. The tool is available at fafsa.ed.gov.

• The Oct. 1 start date provides more time for students and parents to explore and understand financial aid options and apply for aid before state and institution deadlines. The federal education department had a few more reasons students should start thinking about the FAFSA now:

• It’s time-consuming. The application process can be done in one sitting, but it’s a bit complicated. Much information is needed to complete the FAFSA, including the student’s Social Security number and driver’s license number (if he or she has one); the parents’ Social Security numbers; federal tax returns, including W2s; child support, veterans’ benefits or other untaxed income; checking and savings account balances; investments, including real estate; and business and farm assets.

• There’s a better chance at receiving more state and school financial aid. Federal education officials say there’s only so much money to go around, as states and schools are limited in the amount of aid they can provide students. That means there’s a chance that both could run out of aid, so time is crucial if help is needed.

• It makes the process less stressful during a busy time. Getting the FAFSA out of the way allows students to focus on college applications, scholarship applications, high school studies and college-level coursework.

Getting ready for college: Your timeline

Marty Habrock, financial aid and scholarships director for the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the Lincoln-based EducationQuest Foundation recommend these steps to stay on track with applications for federal aid and college applications.

Junior year

• Attend college fairs.

• Visit college campuses.

• Take the PSAT to qualify for scholarships and programs associated with the National Merit Scholarship Program.

• Register for college admission exams such as the ACT and SAT. Ask a high school counselor about test prep options and visit act.org.

• Ask a guidance counselor what high school courses, if any, are still needed to meet college entrance requirements.

• Get involved in more extracurricular activities to include on college and scholarship applications.

• Begin searching for scholarships. Use a free scholarship search tool like one offered at collegeboard.org.

Senior year

• Create an FSA ID at fsaid.ed.gov (one for you and one for a parent). An ID is required when applying for federal aid.

• Complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1.

• Follow up with schools listed on the FAFSA for any additional paperwork that might need to be submitted.

• Register for and take college entrance exams if that hasn’t been done already.

• Visit and apply to colleges.

• Request information from colleges about admission requirements, financial aid and deadlines.

• Complete scholarship applications and ask counselors and teachers to submit letters of recommendation, if needed. Many scholarships have spring deadlines.

• Watch for federal aid, scholarship and college application notifications via email and U.S. mail.

Sources: University of Nebraska at Omaha, EducationQuest Foundation, U.S. Department of Education

State auditor finds WSU likely violated federal grant rules | The …

Washington State University likely violated federal rules when it used money from a science grant to pay salaries and benefits for two employees who had little to no involvement in the projects, a state audit report has found.

While the amount in question is small — just $17,000 in all — a WSU professor who blew the whistle on the case says he’s concerned WSU’s federal grant funding could be in jeopardy as a result.

The issue was raised by Norman Lewis, a professor in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and former director of the institute, who reported it to the state auditor this past year. In an interview, Lewis — a whistleblower who has waived anonymity — said he believes WSU administrators falsified documents and may have also committed grant fraud.

The state auditor’s office didn’t go that far, but it found reasonable cause that an “improper governmental action” occurred when James Moyer, the associate dean of research for the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), directed changes to the federal grant to pay the salaries of two employees.

The auditor’s office found that one employee did no work on the NASA project, but was being paid from that fund, and that another worked at a lesser percentage than was being charged to the grant.

While the state auditor found that an improper government action took place, it did not find that a possible ethics violation took place, said Kathleen Cooper, spokeswoman for the auditor’s office. In part, that’s because Lewis didn’t raise that issue at the time, and also because the action didn’t meet the definitions of any of the things that constitute an ethics violation, Cooper said.

However, the State Ethics Board will also review the case, and it could reach a different finding, she said.

WSU officials have pushed back against the auditor’s report, saying it left out some facts that “lend to an inaccurate and incomplete context of the situation.”

Among the reasons for why WSU objects to the finding: administrators say Lewis was told that if the two employees weren’t moved to federal grant work, they would be at risk of being laid off; and that Lewis had been “repeatedly instructed to address the funding concerns but has repeatedly failed to respond and did not take appropriate corrective action,” wrote Phil Weiler, the university’s vice president for marketing and communications, in an email.

Lewis disputes those arguments.

He was granted whistleblower status by the state as part of the investigation, which means he cannot be retaliated against for providing information to the auditor.

At issue are grants awarded to CAHNRS, the university’s largest college. In 2016, CAHNRS received more than $83 million in federal research funding, according to the state auditor’s report.

One of those grants was a $2 million, 3-year grant awarded by NASA to investigate how genetically modified plants would grow in space, Lewis said. The plants are scheduled to be sent in 2018 to the International Space Station, where astronauts will grow and tend them in a specially designed plant-habitat facility.

Lewis is the principal investigator for the NASA grant, as well as for a second grant from the federal Department of Energy (DOE). Both grants involved the study of lignin, a complex organic polymer found in plants that makes them woody and rigid. The two studies are unrelated.

As principal investigator, Lewis — who was director of WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry for 25 years, before he stepped down two years ago to focus on research — is the primary contact responsible for overseeing the project, including its fiscal aspects.

In the summer of 2016, Lewis said, WSU administrators proposed moving an employee who worked as a technician in the institute onto the NASA grant payroll. But Lewis said the employee didn’t have the skills necessary to do the work, and both he and NASA officials told administrators not to use the grant money to pay the employee’s salary.

Lewis said something similar happened with the DOE grant, involving a technician whose salary was 30 percent funded by the grant. He said WSU officials wanted that employee’s salary to be fully funded by the DOE grant.

In August 2016, after Lewis filed a public-records request to see paperwork on the two grants, he said he discovered WSU officials had charged the two employees’ full salaries from the grant funds. In addition, Lewis said, another WSU administrator had signed the paperwork and listed himself as the principal investigator for the project, even though Lewis is the principal investigator.

“As far as I am concerned, this was falsification of documents,” Lewis said. He said he is also concerned WSU may be liable for grant fraud.

In the NASA case, the employee’s salary — $8,218 in compensation and $3,416 in benefits — was charged to the NASA grant for about six weeks, starting in July 2016, according to the auditor’s report. The employee told investigators that she had never worked on the NASA grant.

In the DOE case, the employee whose salary was partially funded by the grant became wholly funded by the grant starting in July 2016, an amount totaling $3,569 in compensation and $1,850 in benefits.

Lewis said the case will be reported to the office of inspector general for NASA and DOE, which could penalize WSU.

Lewis said he is concerned that WSU could be frozen out of future federal grants. In past cases of grant fraud, the federal government has prosecuted such misconduct aggressively, including levying millions of dollars in fines against universities found in violation of the law.

Tarrant County schools lose $7 million in federal funding

Third-graders Alexis Segovia and Keiy’ana Cook like fiction, especially stories about Meli, a dog character featured in a series of books they read at West Handley Elementary in east Fort Worth.

When the two 8-year-olds started working with tutor Susan Titus last year they weren’t reading at grade level, but they made huge gains after participating in 30-minute sessions four times a week.

Titus beamed as she described their accomplishment.

“Honestly, it almost brings me to tears,” she said. “I have a passion for this community and these kids.”

The money that pays for the tutoring program at West Handley comes from Title I, Part A, a federal program that provides funding to schools serving economically disadvantaged students nationwide. School leaders say these dollars are critical because they boost teachers working with students who face immense barriers to learning — from hunger to poverty to broken families.

But this school year, because of changes in federal laws, some school districts have seen their allocations drop, forcing administrators to make tough decisions about what programs to keep — and which ones to let go.

Tarrant County school districts lost almost $7 million when compared with last year.

Arlington schools saw a decrease of $3.3 million.

Fort Worth schools saw a drop of $2.3 million.

“These are the dollars we use to support children who meet criteria for socioeconomic disadvantaged status,” said James Schiele, chief financial officer for Eagle Mountain-Saginaw schools, which lost more than $50,000 compared with the previous school year.

“They are the group that is most at-risk for failure in schools. Failure to provide additional resources to support at-risk kids will have a dramatic negative impact on these children’s lives and the country as a whole,” Schiele said.

Title 1 02

At West Handley Elementary, where 90 percent of the students participate in the free and reduced lunch program, keeping reading tutors such as Titus meant the school sacrificed another program. The school lost $20,000 in Title I, Part A funding and decided to cut the Communities in School program, which helps find resources for struggling families and students.

“We have been able to work through it, but it is a budget game,” said Julie Moynihan, principal at West Handley. “We have to be more intentional with the money we spend on people.”

Related stories from Star-Telegram

‘The new normal’

Bob Farrace, with the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Virginia, does not mince words when trying to explain school finance at the federal level, especially with the latest round of changes.

“Federal funding is complicated,” Farrace said. “It is often not particularly accessible to the lay person.”

Nationally, the Department of Education allocated about $15.4 billion in Title I, Part A funding, which is up from about $14.9 billion in 2016.

In past years the doling out of Title I, Part A dollars has been a somewhat fluid process, based on such factors as enrollment numbers and poverty levels.

Those factors are still key parts of the funding formula, but as states transition from federal No Child Left Behind laws to the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, more federal dollars are now allocated to campuses that are trying to sustain success after being low performers. Last year the Texas Education Agency set aside 5 percent of Title I money for sustaining low-performing schools; this year the number is 7 percent (about $99 million), officials said.

59 percent of the state’s more than 5 million public school students were listed as economically disadvantaged last school year

So while the amount of Title I money sent to Texas actually increased, from about $1.37 billion to $1.4 billion, some schools had their amounts reduced, according to the TEA.

“ESSA law changed, so we had to make the required statutory adjustments,” the TEA said in an email. “The state does not determine the formulas for allocating funds to school districts.”

The formulas are determined by the federal government.

The problem is not unique to Texas, said Carlas McCauley, Director of the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd, a California nonprofit focused on improving schools.

“The shock is that for most (schools) this will be the first year you have received less,” McCauley said, explaining that in some cases “that will be the new normal” as the reserved funding is supposed to help struggling schools.

‘Always worried about money’

In the Fort Worth school district, there are 124 campuses that receive Title I, Part A dollars this year. Besides reading tutors, who play a key role as the district tries to improve its reading levels, principals were forced to unload data specialists, other tutors and support programs such as Communities In Schools which supports at-risk students.

Mirgitt Crespo, the Fort Worth school district’s federal programs director, said that about $1.5 million in leftover funding from last year will be used to make up for this year’s shortfall. Other districts said some of these federal dollars increase during the year.

But, Crespo said, “it’s not going to solve the problem.”

How much schools get can change from year to year, she said.

Crespo said that as Fort Worth grows, more people with money are moving into the district. That results in a reduction in Title I funding because Title I dollars are supposed to help lift low-income students. All students who live within the Fort Worth district’s boundaries are counted in the funding formula, even if they attend private, public charter or home schools.

“The people who are coming into the area are not poor,” Crespo said. “But we still have poor people.”

We are always worried about money. We are always worried about the unknown.

Regina Williams, Dunbar’s Title I Priority Schools Grant coordinator

While most Fort Worth schools lost Title I funding, a handful of the district’s campuses saw increases in funding, creating a situation described by some as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Schools with high levels of poverty end up vying against each other for the same dollars.

A similar dynamic is taking place at the federal level, said some Title I experts, because the federal government is asking Texas to use more of the Title I, Part A dollars to support struggling schools — thereby taking resources away from campuses that serve those other at-risk students.

For example, at Wyatt High School, where the percentage of students living in poverty increased from 74 to 94 percent, Title I, Part A funding increased to $321,300 — up from $281,590.

In comparison, Dunbar High School, a few miles away, received a smaller campus award, to $179,010 — down $14,740.

“We are always worried about money. We are always worried about the unknown,” said Regina Williams, the coordinator of Dunbar High School’s Title I Priority Schools Grant.

The Priority Schools Grant is funded by the 7 percent pot set aside for supporting previously low-performing schools, which must apply for the money.

Williams said both Title I funding sources are crucial to Dunbar’s academic performance. During the 2013-2014 school year, Dunbar was listed as needing improvement by the state. But it has met the state standard the last three years and last year excelled in math.

“We need our kids to continue to grow,” Williams said. “We need for our federal government to hang with us.”

‘A light bulb goes off’

The Title I, Part A money supplements teachers’ efforts with tutors and specialists who help enable students to bridge gaps in reading, math and bilingual education.

The funding also helps engage parents and family members — which is a must for student success, said Alexandra Montes, principal at Western Hills Elementary. That west Fort Worth campus has 100 percent of its students on the free and reduced lunch program, she said.

Western Hills Elementary 1

Montes said Title I funds recently helped pay for a “Pastries for Grandparents” morning event that included expert help on how to use car booster seats. About 250 people attended the informational session that also served to connect with families, she said.

“The grandparents are the ones who are raising all these babies,” Montes said.

This year, the school started with $20,000 less in Title I, Part A funding, Montes said.

She said she cut a computer lab assistant’s position.

At nearby Western Hills Primary, Teresa Chaney said she lost her tutoring job after working at the school for eight years.

She said it’s very important that the students at the school in the Las Vegas Trail area receive extra support.

Western Hills Primary Principal Sonya Kelly told the Star-Telegram recently that the funding decrease meant she had to cut two temporary tutor positions for reading. The two tutors assisted between 30 and 40 children a week. Kelly said she hoped they could find a way to meet this need.

“We get first-graders who still don’t know letters and sounds,” Chaney said. “We have to move them up about nine levels so they are ready to go to second grade.

“When they discover they can read, a light bulb goes off,” Chaney said. “They just soar.”

Star-Telegram writers Sandra Engelland and Alice Murray contributed to this report.

Western Connecticut State University receives federal mental health …


Western Connecticut State University will receive more than $1.6 million over the next four years to expand and improve programs focused on training students to respond to mental health crises.

The funding is part of a federal grant awarded to the Danbury-based university and the University of Connecticut on Friday.

WCSU is expected to received $421,000 each year for four years, making it the largest grant the university has received.

The money was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, which was reauthorized as part of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s Mental Health Reform Act. The program expands the behavioral health workforce and trains new mental health providers, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and paraprofessionals.

UConn received nearly $179,000 to recruit, train and place social workers in underserved areas of Connecticut with a focus on integrated care.

As grant recipients, UConn and WCSU are expected to help close the gap in access to behavioral health care services by recruiting new behavioral health professionals and providing opportunities for field placement, job placement, and career development services, according to the news release.

“Too many kids and adults with mental health needs in this country don’t get the timely care they need for one reason: we don’t have enough trained behavioral health specialists to care for them,” Murphy said. “I worked hard to reauthorize this grant program as part of my Mental Health Reform Act because I believe that it should be as easy to access a doctor or get prescriptions for an illness of the mind as it is for an illness of the body.”

Dr. Gabriel Lomas, professor of education and educational psychology at WCSU, applied for the grant.

“A key aspect is to grow our program so we can increase the behavioral health workforce in the area,” Lomas said. “We will be able to place more students in primary care with physicians and train all students in the behavioral health program in trauma and crisis models. If we have space, members of the community will be able to take the training, too.”

Lomas came to WCSU with a deep background in helping communities respond to crisis. He was a member of a school-based crisis response team and clinical crisis response team in Texas, and he helped to create a Regional Crisis Team in the western part of Connecticut to assist area schools in crisis response preparation.

“WCSU prides itself in being a community partner, developing curricula that are responsive to regional needs,” said WCSU Provost Dr. Missy Alexander. “This grant is just another example of our commitment to Danbury and the surrounding area. We are extremely proud of Dr. Lomas and the work that he has done to secure these funds.”

Western Connecticut State University receives federal mental health funding


Western Connecticut State University will receive more than $1.6 million over the next four years to expand and improve programs focused on training students to respond to mental health crises.

The funding is part of a federal grant awarded to the Danbury-based university and the University of Connecticut on Friday.

WCSU is expected to received $421,000 each year for four years, making it the largest grant the university has received.

The money was awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, which was reauthorized as part of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy’s Mental Health Reform Act. The program expands the behavioral health workforce and trains new mental health providers, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and paraprofessionals.

UConn received nearly $179,000 to recruit, train and place social workers in underserved areas of Connecticut with a focus on integrated care.

As grant recipients, UConn and WCSU are expected to help close the gap in access to behavioral health care services by recruiting new behavioral health professionals and providing opportunities for field placement, job placement, and career development services, according to the news release.

“Too many kids and adults with mental health needs in this country don’t get the timely care they need for one reason: we don’t have enough trained behavioral health specialists to care for them,” Murphy said. “I worked hard to reauthorize this grant program as part of my Mental Health Reform Act because I believe that it should be as easy to access a doctor or get prescriptions for an illness of the mind as it is for an illness of the body.”

Dr. Gabriel Lomas, professor of education and educational psychology at WCSU, applied for the grant.

“A key aspect is to grow our program so we can increase the behavioral health workforce in the area,” Lomas said. “We will be able to place more students in primary care with physicians and train all students in the behavioral health program in trauma and crisis models. If we have space, members of the community will be able to take the training, too.”

Lomas came to WCSU with a deep background in helping communities respond to crisis. He was a member of a school-based crisis response team and clinical crisis response team in Texas, and he helped to create a Regional Crisis Team in the western part of Connecticut to assist area schools in crisis response preparation.

“WCSU prides itself in being a community partner, developing curricula that are responsive to regional needs,” said WCSU Provost Dr. Missy Alexander. “This grant is just another example of our commitment to Danbury and the surrounding area. We are extremely proud of Dr. Lomas and the work that he has done to secure these funds.”

Federal funding to allow Richmond students to learn from James River

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Concho Elementary School gets additional federal funding | Apache …

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Concho Elementary School gets additional federal funding

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Credit union offers schools grants

WINSTON-SALEM — Truliant Federal Credit Union is inviting schools in its communities to apply for Financial Education Grants.

The program provides as much as $5,000 to public school teachers, grades 6–12, who wish to include financial education in their curricula.

The money can be used to improve existing programs or to implement new programs. Funding may be provided to support classroom activities, professional development opportunities, or new and innovative ways to teach financial education. Topics might be budgeting, saving, investing, entrepreneurship, business and economics.

Truliant will distribute a total of $200,000 in financial literacy education grants through 2020. The fund was launched in 2016 in celebration of the credit union’s reaching 200,000 members and surpassing $2 billion in assets.

Teachers may apply individually, or collaborate and apply as departments. A preliminary budget is required to demonstrate how the money will be spent. Teachers can find the grant application at truliant.org/schoolgrants.

Selected semifinalists will be featured on Truliant’s Facebook page and website to encourage online voting. Grant recipients will be selected based on the internal review and the online voting.

Completed applications, including all documentation required, should be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6. Semifinalists selected to be featured in the online voting will be notified later in October. Winners will be announced in mid-November.

Truliant has locations in Alamance County at 2564 Kirkwood Drive and 1205 University Drive, No. 114, Burlington, and 1801 N.C. 119 S., Mebane.

 

Audit raises concerns about education funding oversight

CONCORD, N.H.  — A federal audit of how New Hampshire manages federal education funds found the state has failed to independently monitor schools to ensure they are using the money appropriately.

The U.S. Department of Education reviewed 19 areas in a fiscal review of how the state education department administers federal grants last fall. In a report issued to the state in August, auditors rated the state satisfactory on eight measures and said it is meeting requirements, but should make improvements in five other areas. The audit found six areas of significant concern requiring action by Oct. 18, including a failure to monitor grant recipients to ensure that performance goals are met and that money is being used for authorized purposes.

“This lack of fiscal oversight creates a significant risk that subrecipients could mismanage federal programs, resulting in potential unallowable expenditures or instances of waste, fraud or abuse,” the report states.

The state also was faulted for lacking a standard process to ensure that schools have fixed problems identified in audits and for relying on external auditors to evaluate its operations and internal controls.

Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, who took office in February, said he has worked with the federal government to address the concerns.

“We are confident in the effectiveness of the current systems of internal control we have in place now and going forward,” he said.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said some of the findings were disappointing and troubling.

“Under the leadership of Commissioner Edelbut, we are putting the state on a path of sound internal controls, meeting our fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers and our regulatory obligations,” he said.