ATLANTA - Georgia will spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars helping low-income families pay for day care this year. But a Channel 2 Investigation has found that dozens of day care providers are overcharging the state.
The state says some of those are intentional violations, including those of a day care owned by a high school principal. The program is called CAPS -- Childcare and Parent Services.
Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher went looking for answers. He arrived at Skyline Christian Academy in South DeKalb County just as a bus was unloading young students. Skyline is large enough to occupy two buildings, including a newer one apparently built as the daycare expanded, reported Belcher. But state investigators said they documented an astonishing level of financial mismanagement.
"We have some questions about this ... $67,380 in overpayments the state has accused you of," Belcher told Skyline Christian Academy Director Chars Virgil.
At first, Virgil told Belcher she didn't know anything about the overpayments. But a few minutes later, she admitted she did.
"What some of that was where I didn't keep good attendance records," Virgil said.
An examination of Skyline's records show page after page documenting CAPS charges for children whose attendance the center couldn't document -- altogether, nearly 850 such incidents totaling charges of more than $67,000, Belcher said.
"Is your record-keeping that bad?" Belcher asked Virgil.
"I did make some mistakes and (did) not keep all of my attendance (records). I did lose some attendance (records)," Virgil said.
Once overpayments were identified, the state started taking back 50 percent of that center's CAPS money, Belcher said.
Mona Jackson, director for the program, says as soon as it gets into their system, they start taking the money back.
"And you're going to get every dime back?" Belcher asked.
"That is our intent, to get every dollar back," Jackson said.
There are a lot of dollars to recover from a lot of the 3,587 participating day cares. According to records provided by the Department of Human Services, 159 centers were overpaid in 2010 alone, Belcher reported. The overpayments totaled $1,317,925 that year and $3,960,530 over three-and-a-half years. Jackson said if money is wasted, there is no more to replace it.
"We receive a block grant, which means the funding is the exact amount we receive. We are not going to get any more," Jackson said.
Among the worst alleged offenders Belcher found is Antonio Hurt. He was principal of Stockbridge High School from 2001 to 2005, Belcher said.
In 2004, the Georgia Association of Educators named him its administrator of the year. Investigators say Hurt overcharged the CAPS program $126,454 and classified the violations as "intentional." Hurt left Georgia and is now the principal of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, reported Belcher.
Spoken to by phone, Hurt told Channel 2 Action News he blames poor record-keeping and computer problems for the overpayments. He also said he disputes the state's claim that the overpayments were intentional, Belcher said. Jackson says he has repaid most of the money.
"If it's (an) intentional program violation, that's where we go to Office of the Inspector General and we say, 'We want you to investigate this,'" Jackson said.
Six investigators at the Department of Human Services do nothing but pursue overpayments, Jackson said. The department says fewer than 10 cases have been referred for criminal prosecution.
She said the overpayments amount to less than 1 percent of the annual CAPS budget, but when money is wasted, someone who needs child care help won't get it.