Wenstrup examines potential misuse of pandemic education funds

U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, on Aug. 10 requested the U.S. Department of Education provide documents related to the use of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) monies as the committee investigates the potential misuse of pandemic-era education funds. 

Congress allocated more than $190 billion of aid to states since the start of the pandemic to help schools address the impact that COVID-19 has on elementary and secondary schools across the country, according to Rep. Wenstrup’s letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Another $122 billion was appropriated to ESSER under the American Rescue Plan to help safely reopen schools and address the impact of the pandemic on students. ESSER funds are administered by the Department of Education.

“[M]any critics—including concerned parents—have questioned the efficacy of the program and how much of these funds went toward helping students succeed in the classroom. This is especially concerning in light of mounting evidence that America’s students are continuing to fail academically and struggling to recover pandemic-related learning deficits,” Rep. Wenstrup’s letter said.

The letter also cited the National Assessment of Educational Progress, having recently reported that 13-year-olds’ performance in math and reading had declined to their lowest recorded levels since 1990 and 2004, respectfully.

Rep. Wenstrup wrote that it is important that Congress understand how the Department of Education administered ESSER funds and the extent to which state and local education agencies may have misused funds at the expense of students.

“Unfortunately, the fund’s seemingly few restrictions, coupled with the Department’s limited accounting, has meant that Congress has largely been without the information necessary for it to assess the program’s benefit for students academically (if any) and ensure that funds were neither wasted nor abused,” Rep. Wenstrup wrote.

To further the Select Subcommittee’s investigation, Wenstrup requested that the Department of Education provide all Recipient Data Collection Forms submitted for years 2020, 2021, and 2022.