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California Department of Education’s failure will cost kids big

Celeste Fiehler

Deputy Director of Parent Union

Celeste Fiehler
October 29, 2021

California Department of Education’s failure will cost kids big

California’s public-school administrators took a test this year, and they failed miserably.

No, we’re not talking about their refusal to reopen classrooms when data showed it was safe to do so. And no, we’re not talking about abysmal student reading and math scores.

We’re talking about the way they’ve demonstrated that, even with unprecedented amounts of cash, they just can’t provide the education California kids deserve. The education establishment has shown that it’s not a lack of funding preventing our schools from succeeding, but rather, failing leadership.

Through a series of federal aid packages intended to help students recover some of the learning loss and mental anguish caused by the union-induced school closures, California schools received a record $15.3 billion in one-time, additional funding this year. The aid provided the very thing teachers unions and administrators have told us for decades was needed before they could perform at a satisfactory level: more money.

Well, they got it.

Unfortunately, California kids don’t seem to be getting much of it.

In fact, education bureaucrats have proven themselves so ineffective that California kids now stand to lose $160 million of that purportedly critical aid because the California Department of Education is either unable or unwilling to provide the most basic-level oversight required by the federal government on how the money is being spent. It’s akin to someone claiming to be starving, coming across a $5 on a sidewalk, and not bothering to bend over and pick it up.

According to a scathing report issued by State Auditor Elaine Howle, the state is not ensuring school districts are reporting how they are spending their federal aid; is not monitoring which districts are likely to see their funding revoked for failing to meet deadlines or transparency standards; nor is it verifying that districts are spending the aid on permissible expenditures.

Just how little oversight are we talking about? According to the report, the state is monitoring fewer than 1% of districts.

The auditor’s report indicated schools may be spending significant amounts of this money on salaries. Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Mary Nicely rejected a suggestion to provide greater oversight to schools making high expenditures in the “other” category, where salary spending falls. There are numerous ways public schools could be spending this money to help students, from providing targeted education savings accounts that equip parents with money to supplement their child’s education in the areas most needed, to funding local learning pods for children to be educated in small-group, multi-grade settings outside the traditional classroom.

As a consequence of the state’s lack of oversight, the federal government could revoke $160 million of the initial aid schools have received, reducing the likelihood that California kids will receive the support they’re owed. The auditor stresses compliance will become even more important in the future, as the state receives the remainder of its federal allocations.

Meanwhile, the California Department of Education has also largely failed to distribute federal aid earmarked to help students in private schools. Though taxpayers typically don’t fund private and parochial institutions, Congress made an exception because all children experienced hardship from the pandemic; it offered about $368 million to non-public institutions in the state.

The money is mostly slated to go to urban schools that serve underprivileged children, and Governor Gavin Newsom promised it to school leaders seven months ago. As detailed by Ed Source, many of these schools purchased Chromebooks so their students could learn remotely, and installed air filtration systems, expecting to receive the money months ago. They’re still waiting. Worse, the state has yet to tell the schools which vendors it may use for services, and doesn’t anticipate providing such information until February – over a year after Congress authorized this funding.

While we may not know how California’s public schools are spending their federal aid, or when private schools will get the money they’re owed, the California Department of Education has been clear about one thing: despite what we’re always told, more money won’t lead to better outcomes. Likelier, it will be squandered.

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Celeste Fiehler is the Deputy Director of Parent Union.

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