RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new audit released Wednesday said the Department of Public Instruction did not do enough to track how millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief money was spent as kids risked falling behind in their education.
State Auditor Beth Wood (D) said there weren’t adequate measures in place to determine if the money from the CARES Act actually achieved its intended purpose.
“We don’t know right now if moneys have been misspent or not, but more importantly DPI doesn’t either,” she said.
The auditor’s office highlighted these findings regarding the agency’s spending:
- $31 million of Coronavirus Relief Funds for the Summer Learning Program without a method to ensure student ability was improved,
- $37 million of Coronavirus Relief Funds for nutrition services without establishing a method to measure results, and
- $76 million of Coronavirus Relief Funds without a method to detect misuse of the funds.
Of nearly $3.6 billion in funding sent to North Carolina in the CARES Act, the General Assembly designated $316 million for DPI, the audit noted.
“They haven’t even been able to identify the children that needed the help, got the help, or did it actually improve their reading and math skills,” Wood said.
She also noted that the General Assembly allocated $70 million for the summer learning program, but that only $31 million of that had been spent. Under federal law, CARES Act money must be spent by Dec. 30.
Superintendent Mark Johnson (R) pushed back on the auditor’s report. He agreed with the finding that DPI did not track how well the summer learning program improved students’ abilities. He blamed the state Board of Education for ending a contract that included a tool for measuring student performance.
He disagreed with the finding regarding nutritional services for kids, writing, “DPI worked to provide food to any child who was in need of food during this crisis. The alternative would be letting children go hungry.”
He also took issue with the third finding that the agency did not monitor spending and claimed the auditor’s team received “incorrect statements” from DPI staff.
DPI declined CBS 17’s request for an interview.
Wood’s audit warned of DPI making “inaccurate and potentially misleading statements” in response to the report.
She said her team only had conversations with managers within DPI.
“During these numerous conversations, the only reason Department management gave for not establishing a method to ensure student ability improved in the Summer Learning Program was that the 2020 COVID-19 Recovery Act (Recovery Act) did not require it to do so,” the audit reads.
“The issues really arose when the Superintendent saw the report. He’s refuting what his staff told us,” Wood said. “He refuted what his staff told us, said he was going to take disciplinary action against those that told us what they told us. But, mind you, those that are down in the weeds doing the work know exactly what went on.”
In a statement, DPI officials said the funding programs continue through the end of this month, and the agency is preparing a report for the General Assembly.