RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s education department failed to monitor sufficiently whether over $140 million in federal coronavirus relief money was used properly or met its intended purposes, according to a report from the State Auditor’s office released Wednesday.
The performance audit looked at portions of the $316 million in federal CARES Act money that the General Assembly allocated to the Department of Public Instruction through a state law in early May.
In an examination of virus-related costs from March through August, State Auditor Beth Wood’s office found that DPI distributed $76 million to local school districts, charter schools and other education units without enacting a method to detect the misuse of money. The department also failed to establish methods to ensure that $31 million for summer learning programs helped improve student ability and to measure results from $37 million spent for nutrition services such as breakfast and lunch for vulnerable students, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
DPI didn’t take action to make “sure that these monies accomplished exactly what they were meant to be spent for,” said Wood, a Democrat.
In a letter to Wood attached to the audit, Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said his agency “vigorously worked” to deliver coronavirus relief funds “while keeping in mind that the most important focus was helping those in need.” The State Board of Education was to blame for not having a measurement tool for the summer learning program, Johnson wrote. He disagreed with the findings involving nutrition services and distributions to local districts.
“We fully stand by how we distributed nutrition funds,” DPI said in a separate statement on Wednesday. “Additional requirements that some would demand would have likely risked that already vulnerable children across N.C. would have gone hungry.”
In a written rebuttal, Wood’s office took issue with Johnson’s letter, saying it contained “inaccurate and potentially misleading statements” from DPI.
Johnson, a Republican, didn’t seek reelection this year to the post and instead ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. Republican Catherine Truitt will become superintendent in January. Wood was reelected last month.
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