Denver Public Schools pays $2.1 million to settle allegations it misused AmeriCorps funds

Denver Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, paid the federal government more than $2.1 million to settle allegations that it misused AmeriCorps funds, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado announced Tuesday.

The settlement, which includes the stipulation that DPS does not admit any liability, follows an investigation conducted four years ago that found the district recruited its own employees to serve as AmeriCorps volunteers.

“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,” AmeriCorps Inspector General Deborah Jeffrey said in a statement. “Double-counting teachers’ paid work as national service hours meant that the community received no net benefit from AmeriCorps funding.”

AmeriCorps is a federal service program that offers incentives, such as living allowances, education awards and other benefits, to people to volunteer with organizations. For example, AmeriCorps members were recruited to help public health agencies in Colorado conduct contact tracing during the pandemic.

The AmeriCorps program at DPS ended after a 2018 report found the district violated regulations, including by recruiting paraprofessionals already working in its classrooms to serve as AmeriCorps members.

The federal government alleges that when the district recruited existing employees for its AmeriCorps programs, it “improperly” counted the time the workers spent on their duties as district employees as service hours, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

And in 2015 and 2016, DPS falsely certified that volunteers had worked enough service hours to qualify for an AmeriCorps education award, which members can receive if they complete a specific number of service hours and other requirements, the federal government alleged.

AmeriCorps handed out more than $858,600 in education awards based on DPS falsifying certifications for six of its programs, which the federal government alleges were not eligible for the additional $557,200 in direct AmeriCorps funding they received, according to federal prosecutors.

District employees that managed the AmeriCorps grants either resigned or were fired.

As part of the settlement, DPS also will pay for any outstanding education awards not yet distributed, which may total an additional $614,000, according to a Department of Justice news release.

This is a developing story and will be updated.


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