Illustration by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters; iStock

(CALMATTERS) – Imagine your boss giving you a check worth four months of your salary and saying you only have a short time to spend it. That’s essentially the situation facing California schools, which got a whopping $33.5 billion in state and federal stimulus funds to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the money has come with limited oversight and little transparency. There isn’t a centralized state or federal database of what schools are buying. And although districts are required to post some spending plans online, many are difficult to find and so broad as to be virtually useless in tracking the money.

To get a sense for how school districts are spending this unprecedented amount of money, CalMatters reporters Robert Lewis and Joe Hong reviewed thousands of pages of documents obtained through more than 45 public records requests. That includes spending ledgers from dozens of districts – including most of the state’s largest – and previously unreported state reviews. Check out their findings here.

  • But the reviews are limited in scope: Last fiscal year, the California Department of Education monitored stimulus spending at less than 1% of the approximately 1,700 educational agencies that received aid. 
  • Of the 15 reviews conducted, potential red flags popped up in six. This year, concerns surfaced in 19 of 37 reviews. 

Meanwhile, some California school districts simply won’t say how they’ve spent their pandemic money, courtesy of American taxpayers, Robert and Joe report.

  • Four districts — including Los Angeles Unified, the biggest in the state — didn’t provide spending ledgers nearly three months after CalMatters first asked.
  • And two districts – San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified – refused to release records showing how they’ve spent the taxpayer money.