• Swamp Watch

SLUSH FUND: How Superintendents Are Using COVID Relief Money

School Districts Have Billions in COVID Relief Dollars to Invest in Recovering Learning Loss. Instead, they're using it as a slush fund.

We've written before about the $3 billion in federal relief money flowing to public schools in Louisiana to address the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the public education swamp's efforts to block transparency into how those funds are being spend. After a bit of digging, we've managed to find what the education swamp doesn't want you to see: tens of millions of dollars of COVID relief funds being spent on new buildings, renovations, auditorium improvements, and playgrounds- rather than addressing learning loss.

As Superintendents across the state say they "lack resources" to implement higher standards in their districts, they've used COVID relief money as a slush fund to invest in buildings instead of improving student outcomes- a phenomenon not unique to Louisiana, but troubling given the dismal performance of Louisiana's public schools. In addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars that remain unspent- that could be used to implement higher standards, those same Superintendents who are leading the fight against tougher accountability have spent nearly $53,000,000 of their relief funds on musical instruments, new buses, and building renovations- among other "capital improvements"- in just the 3 small school districts (Jackson, St. Landry, and St. Helena) that those Superintendents lead.

Across those 3 districts, the amount spent on these sorts of projects amounts to over $3,300 per student, or enough to hire nearly 1,100 new teachers at the state average salary.

You can see the full breakdown for those 3 parishes here, but some of the most egregious highlights are:

  • $16,000,000 in classroom and cafeteria expansions at select St. Landry Parish Schools, led by LASS President Patrick Jenkins

  • $15,000,000 in new classrooms, also in St. Landry

  • $535,000 in musical instruments and art supplies in St. Landry

  • $800,000 to build a weight room in Jackson Parish Public Schools, led by LASS Vice-President David Claxton

  • $745,000 in auditorium improvements, also in Jackson Parish

  • $700,000 in restroom renovations for social distancing in Jackson Parish

  • $565,000 to install cameras for contact tracing in Jackson Parish

  • $5,258,163 in classroom and HVAC renovations to promote social distancing in St. Helena Parish, led by Dr. Kelli Joseph

Given the needs of Louisiana students to catch-up from pandemic learning loss, there is simply no excuse for Superintendents to say they lack resources to invest in students when they're spending money on things like weight rooms, musical instruments, and renovations, justified by "social distancing" and "contact tracing". These same school districts are the ones lead by Superintendents who say they can't afford to raise the bar for the students they are supposed to serve.

Over the coming days and weeks, we'll continue taking a deep-dive into how school districts statewide are spending their COVID relief dollars to provide the transparency and accountability the education swamp has fought so hard to avoid.

You can read all of our past stories on Louisiana's education swamp here.

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