According to a report compiled by the National Opportunity Project, a government watchdog organization, more than $736 million in federal COVID relief funds failed to reach K-12 non-public school classrooms as intended. Governors could now reallocate the unused funds to other public and private entities.
The NOP report claimed that approximately $157 million of the funds have already been redistributed elsewhere by state leaders, including to unrelated "pet projects."
Following government lockdowns in 2020, Congress set aside nearly $200 billion in relief funds for reopening K-12 schools. The NOP found that approximately 97% of the aid went to public schools. Congress later created the Emergency Assistance to Nonpublic Schools to provide an additional $5.5 billion to non-public schools impacted by the government's shutdowns.
Pat Hughes, the president of NOP, told Fox News Digital that the COVID aid that went to government-run schools had fewer use restrictions than the aid allotted for non-public schools. He explained that the public schools were provided "blank checks," while non-public schools were only allowed to spend the funds on COVID-related projects, such as sanitization supplies and air ventilation systems.
"This money, the $5.5 billion, was supposed to be designed to help people get through that pandemic and the problem was the public schools had a broad base of what they could use the money for, but the private schools were limited in what they could use it for," Hughes stated.
He added that non-public schools were restricted to spending the funds on "things that were directly related to the disease as opposed to things that were directly related to their educational well-being."
A so-called "reversion clause" disincentivized state leaders from providing the non-public schools with aid because, if the money did not reach the institutions within six months, it could be used for other projects, NOP reported.
"Sometimes it is misused, sometimes it just reverts back to the governors and they use it for a pet project that may be a good project … but it isn't going to help educate kids who had tremendous learning loss and mental distress in these private schools," Hughes said.
NOP reported that some of the funds were misused, citing examples of $1.6 million that went to an Oregon "Moonshot for Equity" initiative with the goal of "eliminating equity barriers." Another $1.2 million in Alaska was used to teach students how to code using the game Minecraft. In West Virginia, $500,000 in aid funds was used to award 12 public schools that won an "I Got Vaxxed!" Competition.
Hughes stated that NOP created the report to inform the public about the unused funds that were previously intended for non-public school classrooms.
"There are many states where the money can be redirected by the governors, and we think that the governors should be giving that money to the schools for education, specifically because of how much learning loss and mental stress [that] took place because of the COVID policies after all these years," Hughes explained.
He called on state leaders and governors to seize the "incredible opportunity" to help students who suffered learning loss during the lockdowns.
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