The federal government sent around $190 billion in aid to public schools across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is a lot of money by any standards, but in terms of federal spending on primary education, it is a shockingly large amount: as Reason‘s Matt Welch explained when surveying the Biden administration’s weak moves toward promoting public school reopening back in February, that’s more than four times as much as the federal government tended to push toward K-12 education a year in pre-COVID times.
Is the money being diligently used for its intended purpose? Of course not. A survey by ProPublica found, when examining some of the “provisional annual reports…by state education agencies” for about $3 billion worth of the aid from March to September of 2020, that “just over half of the $3 billion in aid was categorized as ‘other,’ providing no insight into how the funds were allocated.”
Over the last school year, 15 states constituting around a quarter of the total U.S. population didn’t even manage to achieve 50 percent effective in-person education, the alleged purpose of all that federal COVID money.
ProPublica reports that “Some districts have been found to be spending their federal funds on projects seemingly at odds with the spirit of the aid program, such as track and field facilities and bleachers.” This is happening despite the fact that “Under the terms laid out by the federal government, states are responsible for developing tracking systems to ensure districts are spending the money on countering the effects of the pandemic.”