California Schools Failed To Address Learning Loss With Federal Relief Funds

A new report depicts how California Public Schools used COVID relief funds, or more so, how they failed to use them to bolster learning.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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California public schools

When the COVID pandemic first shuttered the doors of most public schools across the nation, educators and officials knew almost instantaneously that there would be immense learning loss felt in districts where schools remained closed for extended periods of time. To combat this, Congress passed a series of stimulus bills totaling nearly $190.5 billion through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. States were told to use the money to make up for learning loss and COVID prevention measures. But nearly two years in, a new report shows how California public schools have failed to spend most of these funds for this purpose. 

The School Boards Association released a report early in July to depict how California public schools distributed COVID relief funds through the state and how districts spent that money. Of the $40 billion shelled out to schools in the Golden State, the majority didn’t use the cash to bolster academics and close the gap on learning loss. All of this despite the fact that multiple reports have confirmed the fears over the past two years, depicting how dire the learning gap would become for some school children after schools remained closed. 

The writing is on the wall, and students across the nation have suffered immensely in academic achievement since the onset of the pandemic. Black, Hispanic, and impoverished students fell drastically behind standards, once more widening the gap between their achievements compared to White and Asian pupils during that time. Now that it is known that California public schools failed to use the majority of relief funds to make up for this, trust in the system will likely continue to wane, and more families will likely be seen leaving for alternatives. 

What’s more, the report detailed how erratic spending efforts seemed to be, as the majority of districts didn’t make it clear how exactly they used ESSER funds. Much of this failure is due to the fact that although Congress claimed that they required districts to track how they spent the cash, there were loopholes that allowed them to label spending ambiguously. Allowing for a broad “other” category, the California public schools report stated that most districts selected this category to account for spending. 

Education officials ridiculed California public schools and policy’s for allegedly failing to spend more of this hefty funding on student learning efforts. State Auditor Elaine Howle berated the department of education for this, saying that not enough audits were conducted. In fact, less than one percent of schools were checked last year. Likewise, Vince Stewart, the Vice President for Children Now, also criticized this failure on part of the department, noting that billions of additional dollars were handed out, so how could schools have failed to ramp up learning efforts?

California public schools

While this finding is troublesome to many parents and educators, there is still hope for students in California public schools. The state has not used up its entirety of ESSER funds as of yet, and now that this report has been made public, the hope is that the state will prioritize efforts to mitigate learning loss. And given the state of approval for public schools across the county, California would be wise to bolster efforts in all ways possible.