(The Center Square) – More than $17 million of unused pandemic relief funds for education administered through the Oklahoma governor’s office sits unused, while the Oklahoma State Department of Education has spent more than $1 billion of the funds it oversees.
Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows the funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 must be spent no later than Sept. 30, 2023.
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office did not immediately return messages to The Center Square asking for more information about the governor’s plans for the funds.
The OSDE has no authority over the funds, which is the second round issued to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. What happens to the money if it is not used is up to the U.S. Department of Education, said Rob Crissinger, executive director of communications for OSDE.
“We are concerned that the longer GEER money goes unused, the more difficult it will be to do so,” Crissinger said in an email to The Center Square.
In July, a report from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General said Stitt’s administration failed to manage millions of dollars in GEER funds issued during the first round. The department asked the state to return more than $650,000 they say was used by grant recipients to purchase non-educational items such as televisions, cellphones and furniture.
Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, has sued the state, saying his requests to review the state’s spending of GEER funds were either not met or ignored.
Meanwhile, state education officials have spent more than 44.5% of the $2.3 billion allotted through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The OSDE still has more than $1 billion of funding to spend from the American Rescue Plan Act. The money must be obligated by Sept. 30, 2024, according to the USDOE.
Oklahoma ranks third among all states in ESSER fund spending, behind Ohio and Hawaii.
“Oklahoma educators have shown their commitment to serving the significant needs of more than 700,000 students impacted by the pandemic through the rapid deployment of federal COVID relief funds in the state,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in a news release. “Data from the federal dashboard proves what I have known from the beginning of the pandemic – our districts were desperate for these funds and have used them to positively impact student achievement and well-being.”
Hofmeister is challenging Stitt in the November gubernatorial race.