Oklahoma failed to properly monitor and review certain expenditures from federal relief funding it received for education-related pandemic recovery efforts, a U.S. Department of Education watchdog wrote in an audit last week.
Specifically, the state lacked written monitoring policies and procedures and conducted only limited monitoring activities for some spending activities from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, or GEER.
Those oversights led to the improper purchases of items, such as Xbox gaming systems, smartwatches and Christmas trees that do not appear to be education-related, said the Office of the Inspector General's 65-page audit, released July 18.
In all, $652,720 on 3,184 different expenditures were misspent, the report said. These purchases were from the state's Bridge the Gap initiative, which provided microgrants to qualifying families to purchase curriculum content, tutoring services, and technology. OIG noted that some of the questionable purchases could have been made by families' personal accounts, but that it was difficult to make that determination with the documentation provided.
The state, meanwhile, has returned $919,354 in unspent funds that it had no plans for using, according to the audit. The inspector general noted that drawing down more funds than were immediately needed increases the risk of fund mismanagement.
In a response to a draft of the audit report included in the final report, State Chief Operating Officer Steven Harpe said although there may have been documentation issues as the state worked quickly to distribute funds, it had already taken corrective action by hiring grants management executives to oversee GEER spending.
The state has also developed an evaluation rubric for making decisions on federal grant spending. In addition, the state has published competitive bidding guidance and refined internal controls for awarding GEER grants, Harpe wrote.
The inspector general audit covered state GEER grants from March 13, 2020, through August 26, 2021.
Federal GEER funds were allocated to each state to support education pandemic recovery efforts, including awarding funds to subgrantees. Oklahoma received $57.6 million in GEER funds and had spent 64.2% as of May 31, according to an Education Department spending portal.
The GEER funds are just one of several federal pandemic relief funds dedicated to education recovery that is being monitored by the Education Department.
The inspector general has completed several pandemic relief aid reviews and has more underway. The office has a long-standing policy of not confirming or denying investigative activity, and it does not share information about ongoing audits or investigations.