$62 million; when it’s all said and done that’s how much money will be spent on GEAR UP in South Dakota since the program began in the state in 2005.

The original goal was to increase the number of Native American students attending college by five percent or just three students. But there isn’t sufficient data to be able to tell if that even happened.  Now Angela Kennecke has acquired the State of South Dakota’s original 2005 application for the GEAR UP grant.  And it turns out, it was a rush job. 

You may remember KELOLAND News obtained South Dakota’s 2011 GEAR UP grant application through the Freedom of Information Act.  But when we tried to get the state’s first application for the federal program back in 2005, we were told by the U.S. Department of Education that all documents on South Dakota’s GEAR UP program before 2011 were destroyed. 
But it turns out that someone had a copy–an editor for the state’s application.  And he gave it to our grant writing expert, Michael Wyland, who shared it with us.

“He held onto the application I presume, because it was part of his work product,” Michael Wyland of Sumption & Wyland said.

The editor, who had the 2005 copy, was working for The Academy for Educational Development or AED in Washington, D.C.  He told Wyland that South Dakota decided to apply two weeks before the grant’s deadline. 

“That meant that everyone had to scramble to put together an application on short notice,” Wyland said.

It also answers one question KELOLAND News had after obtaining the final reports on the 2005 grant from the state.  GEAR UP had failed to meet numerous learning objectives for students and those issuing the final report didn’t know where the original goal numbers came from. It turns out there’s a reason for that. 

“And so what they did was they took Maine’s application for the GEAR UP grant and simply applied those numbers to the SD application,” Wyland said.

That was done by the consulting firm AED, which was supposed to conduct the external evaluations of the program. 

“The state and the evaluation firm in Washington, D.C., had a falling out not long after the application was submitted. Brinda Kuhn, who’d been an employee of the evaluation organization, had in the meantime moved to South Dakota and ended up taking on the external evaluation contract personally,” Wyland said.

Remember Brinda Kuhn?  She’s the evaluator who was paid more than $1 million by Mid Central Educational Cooperative since 2011 for her work on three grants and for providing airplane rides to the Native American students during the summer program at the School of Mines.  

“You have to have integrity when you put together a grant application,” Wyland said.

We also see that the state’s grant application in 2005 promised “equitable access” meaning students in special ed, which can be as high as 30 percent on reservation schools, would also be part of the GEAR UP program.  But it turns out, only the best and the brightest students were selected for GEAR UP.

“In the final report submitted by the state of South Dakota in 2011, they identified that zero; no students qualifying for special education were ever served under the GEAR UP grant submitted in ’05,” Wyland said.

And remember the scholarship component of GEAR UP?  50 to 75 percent of funds were supposed to go for scholarships for the students once they got to college.  In 2011, the state asked and got a waiver from having to use some of the money for scholarships but not in 2005. 

“However, the amount of money they put in the budget for scholarships was far below what the federal government required–it was only about 4.3 percent of the total budget, rather than 50 percent,” Wyland said.

Wyland says after going through both of South Dakota’s applications, final reports and program evaluations, there’s only one conclusion to come to on GEAR UP.

“It worries me that so little has been accomplished with so much money,” Wyland said.

The non-profit group AED, which wrote South Dakota’s 2005 grant was suspended from doing business with the government by the feds in 2010 due to corporate misconduct.  The group reorganized and now goes by a new name. 

Something else that’s a bit of a mystery in the 2005 application; over and over again Wade Pogany, who was Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the SD Department of Education at the time, was listed as the state’s GEAR UP grant director and Stacy Phelps as the program director.  Angela Kennecke spoke with Pogany, who now heads up the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.  Pogany tells her that he was never director of the GEAR UP grant.  He says his name must have gotten attached to it when work was being done on South Dakota’s application, but that he never actually administered the grant. 

In the wake of the GEAR UP scandal, two lawmakers are looking at introducing legislation that would tighten up South Dakota’s conflict of interest laws.  Both Republican Mark Mickelson and Democrat Paula Hawks say they are working their own bills.