Tens of millions of dollars in federal pandemic funds sent to US school districts, colleges and state government for education have reportedly been misspent since 2020 because of faulty awards, double payments and improper contracts.
A total of $280 billion of such funds were paid, and federal and state auditors had found the misspending, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Three states had been audited, it said, and Oklahoma may have misspent the most: $31 million out of $40 million paid to schools and education programs.
Oklahoma improperly spent $8 million to provide 5,000 families with $1,500 grants to buy their children computers and other supplies for the 2021 school year. Families who received the help spent more than $650,000 on noneducational items such as televisions, gaming systems, Apple Watches and Christmas trees.
Oklahoma also used funds to provide vouchers of up to $6,500 for low-income students attending private schools during the pandemic. Auditors said that for every eight out of 10 students receiving the grants, the state could not provide supporting documents to show they were enrolled and attended private schools.
Republican Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt blamed the misspending partly on federal pressure to distribute the money quickly without clear guidance. “That’s what happens when big government goes out just throwing money around,” The Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying.
Stitt said a vendor that the state used to administer a program for low-income families improperly handled hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“There’s … $650,000 worth of this misspending where the low-income people spent it on a washer-dryer, instead of educational materials.”
The audit found that the federal government gave at least $1.2 million to colleges and universities that were closed, and another $73 million was paid in duplicate grants to colleges and universities, the newspaper said. However, the funds were recovered by the Education Department.
The audit found that only part of the $122 billion COVID-19 relief fund for K-12 public school districts, about 27 percent, has been spent. However, the nonprofit news organization Chalkbeat reported that due to the slow speed of data submission and aggregation from district to state to the federal agency, the spending should be much higher than that, the newspaper said.
The Education Department is auditing another nine pandemic-related programs and plans to publish a report on technology spending in the coming months, the report said.
The COVID-19 relief fund has been widely abused across agencies. The sum of $191 billion of more than $880 billion unemployment insurance from the Labor Department is estimated to have been misspent, as acknowledged by Larry Turner, inspector general of the Office of Inspector General of the Labor Department in a recent congressional hearing.