The Perfect Enemy | DeKalb County schools will audit COVID-19 funds; nearly $300 million still unspent
December 6, 2022

DeKalb County schools will audit COVID-19 funds; nearly $300 million still unspent

DeKalb County schools will audit COVID-19 funds; nearly $300 million still unspent  WSB Atlanta

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The DeKalb County School Board has agreed to spend nearly $900,000 to investigate how the district has spent its federal COVID-19 relief money so far.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher has been actively investigating DeKalb County Schools’ spending since last spring.

Last month, we found that DeKalb County notified the state it intended to spend barely one-fifth of its federal money on learning recovery for students who fell behind during the pandemic.

Some education researchers argue that’s not nearly enough.

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We also broke the story that DeKalb County spent nearly $90 million on bonuses for teachers and other employees, but there is still a huge pot of federal money left unspent.

“Any audit is a good audit when it comes to DeKalb County schools, because it will show them where they’re not following their own rules,” said Tucker parent Kirk Lunde, who closely tracks the district’s spending and the conditions of its facilities.

According to the Georgia Department of Education’s (GDOE) website, DeKalb County was awarded a total of about $505 million in COVID-19 emergency money, and about $286 million (57%) remains unspent.

Because the audit approved by the school board will take months to complete, Lunde suspects any findings or guidance will be too little, too late.

“By the time that gets back, a lot of those funds that haven’t been spent yet will have been spent,” Lunde told Belcher.

Channel 2 Action News was the first to report that DeKalb County spent $86 million of the emergency money on bonuses for teachers and other employees.

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School officials told Belcher the money was critical to district efforts to retain key staff.

The district later acknowledged that teacher retention was “not comparatively higher” after the bonuses.

Lunde calls the bonuses “absolutely a waste of money.”

Channel 2 revealed last month that DeKalb County told the GDOE it intends to spend just 22% of its federal money for so-called learning recovery, which includes programs like tutoring or weekend or summer classes to help students who fell behind academically during the pandemic.

That’s barely above the 20% minimum required by Washington.

Some researchers say that’s not nearly enough.

“I don’t know why there’s not sufficient urgency. And what’s really sad is they (school districts) know the learning loss, and they have the money,” said Professor Ben Scafidi, who heads the Education Economics Lab at Kennesaw State University.

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A similar response came from Dr. Marguerite Roza, Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

She told Channel 2, “Most districts will have to spend much more than 20% of that money to get kids back on track.”

But Kirk Lunde wonders if DeKalb County’s aging schools wouldn’t be a better place to spend the money.

Last spring, a student video of the conditions inside Druid Hills High School caused an uproar and embarrassed the school board.

Lunde was not alone in noting that Druid Hills is hardly the only school in need of expensive repairs.

“Facilities of DeKalb County are in such disrepair countywide that they need to spend all this (federal) money on the facilities,” Lunde told Channel 2.

The audit is expected to be completed in June and will cost $877,000.

The school district did not provide a statement for our story.

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