Oversight scarce as billions in COVID aid poured into California schools

Robert Lewis & Joe Hong:

A CalMatters investigation found that schools had wildly different approaches to stimulus spending — from laptops to shade structures to an ice cream truck. No centralized database exists to show the public exactly where the money went. 

When the pandemic closed schools in March 2020 – abruptly ending classes and stranding children and working parents – leaders in Washington and Sacramento scrambled to provide relief.

The result was a series of stimulus measures that allocated $33.5 billion in state and federal funds to California’s K-12 schools to address the devastation of the pandemic. It was a staggering amount of one-time funding for the state’s cash-strapped schools, equal to a third of all the money they got the year before the pandemic. 

Imagine your boss giving you a check equal to four months of your salary and telling you to spend it quickly or risk giving it back. For schools, this was money for things like laptops, air filters and mental health counselors – money to help kids.

But much of the funding has come with limited oversight and little transparency, according to a CalMatters investigation. No centralized state or federal database exists to show how schools have spent this money. And data from the districts’ quarterly spending reportsprovided to the state are so broad as to be virtually useless in tracking this COVID relief money.

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