House Republicans on the Oversight and Reform Committee and the Education and Labor Committee are looking into the misuse of COVID-19 relief funds at schools, specifically in funding divisive racial teachings like critical race theory (CRT).
Congress created the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund to ensure that schools reopened safely and addressed the learning loss suffered by students due to the pandemic. In a Sept. 14 letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (pdf), the GOP members point out that those taxpayer dollars are being “used to indoctrinate children in core tenets of leftist ideology.”
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act of 2021 signed by President Donald Trump contributed $13.2 billion and $54.3 billion to the ESSER Fund, respectively. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), signed by President Joe Biden, provided over $120 billion.
At least 10 states developed plans for using the ESSER funds to implement “racially biased curriculum and programs based on Critical Race Theory,” the letter notes. Critical race theory categorizes people as white and nonwhite, with whites cast as oppressors with privilege and nonwhites cast as the oppressed.
In California, ESSER funds have been used for training in “LGBTQ+ cultural competency,” “ethnic studies,” and “environmental literacy,” the letter states.
In New York, $9 billion in ESSER funds were used to train staff members about “privilege,” “culturally responsive sustaining instruction,” and to recognize “equity warriors.” In Illinois, a part of the $5.1 billion in ESSER funds went to make “equity driven investments” and emphasizing “equity and diversity,” said the letter.
Learning Loss, Filling Up Administrative Positions
The letter points out that despite considerable funding, the learning loss among U.S. students has been significant. “During the 2020–2021 school year, passing math rates declined by 14.2 percent on average overall, but the decline was 10.1 percent smaller for districts who were doing more in-person instruction,” the letter stated.
“Overwhelmingly, school shutdowns occurred in states and localities led by Democrats who chose to keep schools closed much longer than was necessary, often at the behest of teachers unions.”
FutureEd, a thinktank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, analyzed how funds were used in more than 5,000 school districts and charter organizations.
About 60 percent of the education agencies analyzed used the funding to hire or reward teachers, guidance counselors, and academic specialists, making this the highest or second-highest priority in each region of the country, the FutureEd report states.
In the letter to Cardona, Republicans asked for numerous documents to “better understand” the approval process implemented for the ESSER grants.
The GOP members also sent letters to the Education Inspector General, the Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent, the New York State Department of Education Commissioner, and the California Department of Education Superintendent raising the same issue.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Rachel Greszler, a senior research fellow for the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget at The Heritage Foundation, points out that only a third of the staff positions funded by the COVID-19 relief funds went to people actually providing education directly to students, as per available data.
The vast majority of funds ended up paying for administrative positions.
“If you beef up the bureaucracy around schools … it’s difficult to take that away,” Greszler said.