Pushing their investigation into whether states and districts misspent pandemic aid funds, House Republicans wrote U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Monday about the Education Department's role in guiding relief spending.
In the letter, Reps. James Comer, R-Ky., Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. and Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said the investigation is being prioritized as part of congressional oversight of the COVID-19 relief programs. The three representatives chair the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, respectively.
In the letter, lawmakers said funds spent on equity and diversity initiatives — like staff training for culturally responsive teaching — and "equity-based allocations" of funds to districts "appear to have nothing to do with COVID-19 mitigation or learning loss and are a waste and misuse of taxpayer-funded COVID-19 relief programs."
Equity-based allocations were often used by districts and states to determine which schools and students most needed funding to recover from the pandemic's various social-emotional, academic, economic and additional impacts.
Initiatives in Illinois, New York, California and Massachusetts are specifically under scrutiny.
"Rather than use ESSER funds to help students recover from learning losses, some states and school districts that kept schools closed appear to have spent ESSER funds to push favored social agendas," the lawmakers wrote.
In response to the latest letter, an Education Department spokesperson said in an email to K-12 Dive, "The Department received the letter and will review it.”
The letter reiterates claims from Republican lawmakers that some schools and states spent ESSER funds on measures unrelated to school and student needs in light of the pandemic.
At a hearing last week, Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability discussed the possibility of auditing state spending and requiring the return of misspent funds.
Schools' spending on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, teacher training, and athletic programs were just some of the programs Republican committee members said should be challenged as part of the oversight process.
“I don’t know what that stuff has to do with COVID. I don’t know what it has to do with reopening schools, either,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., during the March 29 hearing.
The April 3 letter to the department also builds on previous requests from Foxx and Comer for extensive documentation and communication related to state federal aid spending and plans, dating back to September 2022.
However, the department has previously missed Congress' response deadlines.