What Happened to $190 Billion in School COVID-19 Funds?

New investigation raises questions on spending priorities of local districts and whether states are prepared to effectively track the federal aid (EWA Radio Episode 280)

Congress allocated nearly $200 billion to help schools mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they have until 2024 to spend all the funds. But a new investigation by ProPublica found that there’s been minimal tracking by education officials as to how districts have so far allocated the funding.

Reporter Annie Waldman and Reporting Fellow Bianca Fortis dug into the data from 16,000 provisional reports from state agencies and determined half the money was spent on programs, services or goods categorized as “other,” meaning no specifics are readily available. That’s raising questions as to whether districts are upholding the spirit of federal expectations that the money would primarily be used to benefit the neediest students. (Most of the stimulus dollars were targeted to school districts.)

How can local reporters find out how COVID-19 relief funds are being allocated in their local school systems? Where should reporters be especially cautious when looking at the COVID-19 expenditure reports, such as the difference between money that’s been spent vs. obligated for a later purchase? And what are story and sourcing ideas to help education reporters do a more thorough job on school finance reporting more broadly?

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