Audit alleges North Carolina distributed millions to schools in coronavirus relief without proper oversight

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- A report from the State Auditor's office alleges that the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction distributed more than $140 million in coronavirus relief to schools across the state without a system to check whether student ability improved, whether children got the meals they needed or whether funds were misused.

DPI has sent a rebuttal, saying it disagrees with some of the allegations.

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According to the report, of the $3.59 billion from the CARES Act, $316 million was allocated to the department through the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
Those funds were intended to support the DPI's operations and ensure the state can continue to achieve the mission of providing a sound public education to the approximately 1.5 million students enrolled North Carolina during the pandemic.

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The audit by the State Auditor found that the department distributed $31 million for the summer learning program without establishing procedures to ensure all students that were negatively affected by COVID-19 were identified to participate in the program, what percentage of identified students actually participated in the program or the program improved the students' ability for reading and/or math.

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As a result, the department spent $31 million in taxpayer money without knowing how much or even whether student ability was improved, the state audit said.

In addition, $37 million that went toward nutrition services did not have a way to measure results and $76 million worth of relief funds didn't have a method to detect misuse, state auditor Beth Wood's report said.
According to the report, the department had no way of knowing whether all of the children who needed to receive meals actually received them, whether social distancing and personal hygiene measures used while providing emergency school nutrition services were sufficient to protect the health and well-being of children, families and employees or whether schools that needed additional funding to sustain their nutrition program only received the amount necessary.

The department reported to the auditor that each public school unit was allowed to use its allocation of Recovery Act funds at its discretion as long as it complied with the department's policy and the department said that it plans to monitor the use of the Recovery Act funds at the public school units after December 30, 2020. However, the audit said that, at that point, it will be too late to monitor spending because all of the funds are required to be spent by December 30, 2020.

Superintendent Mark Johnson responded to the audit, saying that he disagreed with the finding that funds were distributed without monitored spending and a way to measure results.

He said that DPI had a reliable tool in place to measure whether student ability was improved by the summer learning program but the NC Board of Education acted to end the contract with the vendor that was used without replacing it, which took away their tool.

Regarding school nutrition, Johnson said DPI should not be held accountable for what he called "aspirational statements" like making sure that all of the children who needed meals received them. In a letter to the auditor, he said there is no reasonable strategy to measure that outcome.

Read the full audit and Johnson's response here.
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