IRG’s K-12 COVID Relief Audit Forces Public DPI Response

Mar 7, 2023 | Press Release, Wisconsin Voices Blog

IRG’s K-12 COVID Relief Audit Forces Public DPI Response

IRG Responds to State Supt. Jill Underly on Continued Opacity: “The Only Thing that Matters Is Kids”

Delafield, WI – The Institute for Reforming Government (IRG) today issued a letter to State Superintendent Jill Underly expressing disappointment over the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) public response to IRG’s groundbreaking K-12 COVID Relief ESSER III Audit and continued lack of transparency.

Following the January 31 release of IRG’s audit and report, DPI was flooded with questions over how schools are allocating the unprecedented $1.49 billion in federal pandemic funding. In response to parents’ and legislators’ queries, Deputy State Superintendent John Johnson issued an email and two pages of talking points to every District Administrator in the state that identifies zero factual errors in IRG’s audit, fails to respond to clear issues like millions in unlabeled allocations and over-budgeting, and justifies two-thirds of funding being unbudgeted and inactive.

Since its release, IRG’s audit has driven statewide momentum for transparency and swifter action for children, as Wisconsin districts increased allocations from $508 million to $938 million total in just two months. IRG will release a massive update on this early next week and applauds districts spurred to action by the audit.

The letter by IRG CEO CJ Szafir reads, in part:

“We are not sure what you are trying to say with your letter. What we had hoped you would say was, ’In this massive, complex process begun at a time of great upheaval, we made some mistakes. DPI will correct errors, help lagging districts put their plans in action, increase transparency, and make sure that every child is getting the support that he or she is owed.’”

“Instead of putting resources toward a shield against criticism, we urge you to follow the report’s recommendations for improvement, either voluntarily or after legislative oversight.”

Timeline of Events:

► January 31, 2023: IRG releases audit transparency tool for taxpayers to see how Wisconsin school districts are allocating the unprecedented $1.49 billion in federal K-12 COVID relief funding.

► February 14, 2023: The Department of Public Instruction issues a public letter and two-page refutation resource claiming to “have received a number of requests for support around how we communicate about the complicated aspects of federal budgeting due to a recent, misleading release from the Institute for Reforming Government.”

► Between January 6 and March 2, 2023: School districts hasten their budget approvals, increasing total allocations from $508 million to $938 million total. Approved funds can now be spent on students.

Click here to read the full letter from IRG CEO CJ Szafir.