Featured: $190B Later, Reason to Worry Relief Funds Won’t Curb COVID’s Academic Crisis

Jul 18, 2023 | In The News, Oversight, Wisconsin Voices Blog

The following article featuring Quinton Klabon, IRG’s Senior Research Director, was published by The74 on Tuesday, July 18, 2023.

Three years ago, the nation’s schools received the first installment in what would become the largest infusion ever of federal funds for education — $190 billion to not only safeguard against COVID, but reverse the academic crisis that followed.

Evidence of the damage from a year of remote learning was inescapable: major setbacks in reading and math, thousands of students unaccounted for and high rates of depression and misbehavior.

In the years that followed, the funds undoubtedly did some good. Some districts used the money to offer summer school for all of their students, provide one-on-one tutoring parents could never afford on their own and hire thousands of new teachers.

States without a tracker don’t always appreciate watchdog groups taking on the challenge themselves. In Wisconsin, Quinton Klabon, senior research director at the right-leaning Institute for Reforming Government, grew frustrated with how the state reported districts’ use of relief funds — a collection of links to PDFs from all 450 districts on the education department’s website.

His organization created its own website and scoured districts’ plans to identify trends. It found, for example, that districts planned to spend 28% of their funds on construction and 6.8% on mental health.

The state pushed back. “Instead of building dashboards, we are helping districts meet federal guidelines while spending dollars in ways that are meaningful to learner growth,” officials said in a memo to superintendents about how to respond to the report. State leaders considered his analysis accurate but still decided to call it “misleading” in their memo, according to internal emails Klabon obtained through a public records request and shared with The 74.


Read the full piece here.