IRG’s K-12 COVID Relief Audit Update: Hundreds of Millions Unallocated with One Year Remaining

Jul 5, 2023 | Oversight, Press Release


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 made swifter action for students front-page news. 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 May 31, 2023, 11 months into the process. Click through to the dashboard, the full report, and the report summary.


Approved district plans rose from $936 million to $1.00 billion (67% of $1.49 billion) since IRG’s March 2 report. Wisconsin schools are on track to exhaust all funds by the September 2024 deadline. Additionally, budget overruns fell from $1.37 million to $898 thousand. IRG shone light on poor oversight by the Department of Public Instruction that allowed districts to allocate more than they actually received.

IRG applauds many school districts’ efforts for children.


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

  • $492 million remains unallocated with only one year left. Most troublesome are 63 districts that have below 33% allocated, including Green Bay, Beloit, Oshkosh, Manitowoc, and Superior. 13 districts are at $0 allocated.
  • Construction remains the largest allocation category at 27%. This represents $270 million, little of which directly improves learning. Despite the Biden administration’s “strong discouragement,” it is $50 million more than the next biggest category, teachers, at 22% of current allocations. DPI had an inadequate defense of this in April’s Wisconsin State Journal story, which utilized IRG’s audit.
  • Mental health is still not prioritized, despite children’s ongoing crisis. Mental health allocations sit at 7%, which amounts to just one-fourth of the building renovation total.
  • Wisconsin schools face a fiscal cliff. $378 million is allocated to permanent personnel.


IRG strongly urges DPI to get lagging districts to make student-focused investments. 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.