IRG’s K-12 COVID Relief Audit Massive Update Shows Construction Now Largest Category at 28%

Mar 20, 2023 | Oversight, Press Release

IRG’s K-12 COVID Relief Audit Massive Update Shows Construction Now Largest Category at 28%

Just 7% to Mental Health, Major Questions about Milwaukee


Since its January release, the Institute for Reforming Government’s (IRG) K-12 COVID Relief ESSER III Audit has driven statewide momentum for financial transparency and swifter action for students. IRG was the first Wisconsin entity to track $1.49 billion of federal relief funding intended to pull kids back from the brink. Now, IRG has updated its interactive tool to include all 450 districts’ approved funds through March 2, 2023, eight months into the process. Click through to the dashboard, the full report, and the report summary.


After beginning far too slowly, approved district plans leapt from $508 million to $938 million (63% of $1.49 billion) in the two months since IRG’s first report. Wisconsin schools are now on track to allocate all funds by July 2023 in order to exhaust all funds by the September 2024 deadline. IRG applauds school districts’ efforts for children.


DPI has not provided adequate oversight for these precious funds. As a result:

  • Construction is now the largest allocation category at 28%. This represents $265 million, little of which directly improves learning. Despite the Biden administration’s “strong discouragement,” it is $61 million more than the next biggest category, teachers, at 22% of current allocations.
  • Mental health is still not prioritized, despite children’s ongoing crisis. Mental health allocations rose from 6% to 7%, but it amounts to just one-fourth of the building renovation total.
  • Unlabeled mystery money and over-budgeting increased. DPI approved $36 million, or 4% of all allocations, in unidentified items. 14 districts went $1 million over budget total, despite DPI approval.
  • The neediest districts remain too sluggish in allocation. 14 of the 20 highest-funded districts are not on pace, 7 of the 10 lowest-performing districts in reading are not, and 19 districts have allocated $0.
  • Wisconsin schools face a fiscal cliff. $342 million is allocated to permanent personnel.
  • Milwaukee is a mess. Following IRG’s January audit, DPI emailed every Superintendent in Wisconsin a 2-page response to IRG. While it did not correct any facts, it did shift leadership on allocations to districts. MPS, in contrast, blamed DPI for taking 10 months to approve its budget and admitted to spending without DPI oversight out of desperation. Now approved by DPI, Milwaukee’s budget is 46% construction – $42 million more than its original board-approved plan – and has $27 million in unlabeled allocations. Those millions, which do not improve students’ academics or mental health, are larger than what 445 out of 450 districts got entirely.


IRG strongly urges DPI to correct errors and provide more student-focused guidance. IRG will update the dashboard through the ESSER III deadline, September 2024, as districts continue to allocate. If DPI won’t provide transparency, IRG will.

Have questions? Reach out to IRG Senior Research Director Quinton Klabon at [email protected]. Follow him for education analysis on Twitter at @GhaleonQ. Support Wisconsin’s kids.