ATLANTA (CN) — The former director of a Georgia grant program for poor and underprivileged children claims in court she was forced out of her job after she blew the whistle on the state Education Department’s plan to give a charter school lobbyist control over federal grant spending.
In a complaint filed in Fulton County Superior Court, Margo DeLaune claims high-ranking officials of the Georgia Department of Education — under pressure from the state superintendent of schools and other government officials — allowed a lobbyist to decide how federal Title I grants should be spent.
DeLaune says when she objected to what she contends is a clear violation of federal law, her supervisors barred her from speaking at public meetings and forced her out of her job.
Until she resigned, DeLaune oversaw the state Education Department’s Title I Program Unit, which administered federal grants to publicly-funded schools for the education of underprivileged children.
DeLaune claims her supervisor passed down orders from the department’s senior leadership directing her to allow an political lobbyist to draft policies for a new pilot program.
The lobbyist, Dan Weber, is a former state legislator best known as the architect of Georgia’s charter school laws. Weber now serves as the executive director of the Georgia Charter System Foundation, which advocates for the reduction of regulatory oversight of charter schools.
The March 30 complaint states DeLaune believed the appointment was designed specifically to “further Weber’s political agenda and increase the public profile of the Georgia Charter System Foundation for Weber’s benefit.”
Immediately after Weber’s appointment, he began crafting policies that DeLaune claims directly violated federal regulations. For example, Weber insisted that local schools could combine federal Title I funds with landscaping funds, thereby removing controls which stop the misuse of federal money.
The complaint alleges that Weber and other high-ranking state Education Department officials engaged in numerous improprieties such as developing policies in private meetings without department input (a violation of the department’s transparency obligations) and misrepresenting federal reporting requirements to local schools.
Eventually, Weber’s lobbying organization was given the responsibility of completely overseeing the pilot program, including developing Title I regulatory guidance and approving any policies related to the governing of federal grants.
DeLaune claims Weber’s proposed policies violated federal law and “placed all of [the department’s] Title I programs for underprivileged students in jeopardy.”
When DeLaune raised objections, she claims she was retaliated against by department officials.
Eventually, DeLaune says, her ongoing objections to what was happening, led to her being removed from the pilot program and replaced by her subordinate employee.
According to the complaint, DeLaune’s supervisors ordered her not to speak during meetings, silenced her claims that the department’s actions and policies violated federal law, and finally acquiesced to Weber’s requests that she be forced out of her position.
The complaint states that a new position was created for Weber which effectively removed all of DeLaune’s oversight over consolidated school funds.
A representative for the Education Department declined to comment on pending litigation.
DeLaune seeks reinstatement with back pay and benefits, and unspecified compensatory damages.
She is represented by Kimberly Worth of Thrasher Worth LLC in Atlanta.