(The Center Square) – A lawmaker filed a lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma Tuesday, claiming mismanagement and lack of transparency over pandemic relief money meant for education.
Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, said requests to review the state’s spending of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds (GEER) under the CARES Act were either not met or ignored.
Oklahoma received just under $40 million for GEER funds from the federal government.
“I am seeking declarative and injunctive relief because I believe failure to provide the required records is unlawful and the records need to be made public immediately,” said Phillips. “Oklahoma government has failed to properly monitor and review expenditures from the federal relief funds it received for education relating to the pandemic.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General issued an audit in mid-July that said Oklahoma lacked assurance that its awards to three entities totaling $31 million of the state’s $39.9 million GEER grant aligned with the purpose of the funds.
The audit identified $652,720 in expenditures that it said were “questionable” and recommended the state either return the money to the federal government or provide documentation to show the spending was education related.
The audit also called for a full review of another $5.4 million that may have also been misspent.
“Providing the requested documents serves the public interest by providing legislative oversight into the manner, method and ultimate motivation of the expenditures of public funds,” said Phillips.
He also criticized the state for not awarding over $900,000 in grant funds, which was returned to the federal government.
“We know that during the height of the pandemic, when our students were suffering the most, Oklahoma returned nearly a million dollars to the federal government. These funds were critical to the success and education of our students,” Phillips said.
The lawmaker said there’s a possibility Oklahoma will have to return up to $31 million to the federal government due to the audit. A repayment, which he said, would impact the overall state budget.
“That would come directly from the people of Oklahoma because of the mismanagement,” said Phillips.
While the State of Oklahoma did not say whether it agreed or disagreed with the audit findings and recommendations, the state did identify “corrective actions” it plans to take, according to the audit, including creating an evaluation rubric to ensure best choices are made for federal grant funds.