Former Athens and Limestone County superintendents along with four others will virtually appear in court for the first time next week.
They are being accused of stealing around $7 million in state education funds through an elaborate scheme that involved enrolling full-time private school students into their online learning systems.
The scheme was uncovered thanks to the current oversight system in place. The state superintendent said he couldn't go into specifics without getting into the investigation. But, there's one thing he wants parents and everyone to know—the system does work.
"We're always disappointed when we see the people's trust violated," Dr. Eric Mackey said.
The state superintendent says when people don't follow the rules, it's going to come to light. That's because of the oversight and protections in place.
"We're going to always be working to make sure that everybody is honest and transparent and doing what they're supposed to do," Dr. Mackey explained.
There are several layers of oversight, starting with the local level to the state board of education and Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts. There's even some federal oversight to make sure funding is being used correctly making it nearly impossible to misuse funds without facing consequences.
Dr. Mackey said "99.999 times out of 100, when people do that, they're going to be caught."
Dr. Mackey says there isn't much they can do to make sure this doesn't happen again in the future.
"We can't ask the legislature to pass a bill or state school board to pass a rule that schoolbook keepers can't misuse funds. Those rules are already in place, but that doesn't mean people may not at sometimes follow those rules," Dr. Mackey said.
But, he wants people to know that there are people out there who are doing the right thing.
"There are tens of thousands of educators across the state today that woke up and went to work to educate your children. They have the best interest for your children at heart. There are many school administrators and school finance people that are doing the right thing and making sure that every nickel is accounted for and that there's full transparency along the way," Dr. Mackey said.
He assures everyone that the system does work.
"It may not work as quickly. You know the old saying, 'The wheels of justice turn slowly.' So, it may not work as quickly as people sometimes want, but the oversight system in place does work. It definitely worked this time," Dr. Mackey said.
The six people who were federally indicted in this scheme will have a virtual arraignment hearing on March 4. The state superintendent along with others involved in the investigation says the indictment was only the first step in a long legal process.