(READ) Oversight Republicans investigate Covid-19 relief funds meant for schools


Reps. James Comer (R-Kentucky) and Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina) plus several Oversight Committee Republicans are launching a full investigation into the Biden Administration’s oversight of pandemic relief funds for school districts.

The Republicans indicate their main concern is that the funding was not adequately targeted to remedy learning losses suffered by children due to pandemic school closures.

In a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the Republicans are requesting all documents and information about the learning loss, policies governing use of Covid-19 relief funds for K-12 students, and the Department’s communications with teachers unions. 

As members of the House Oversight Committee, we insist that you provide information on the Department of Education’s (Department) handling of Covid-19 relief funds. We, and the American people, are due an explanation on how and whether the Department is addressing the negative effects of prolonged school closures on children enrolled in K-12 programs across the country in light of the appropriation by Congress of a total of $263 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) over the course of three pieces of legislation.

According to media reports, the vast majority of these ‘emergency’ funds remain unspent. Study after study shows the learning losses caused by prolonged pandemic school closures are compounding and preventing students from achieving academic success.

Committee Republicans plan to ensure the Department is doing everything in its power to ensure states and school districts properly target funds to remedy the acute learning losses brought on by prolonged pandemic school closures.” 

Rep. James Comer, House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member (R-Kentucky), Rep. Virginia Foxx, House Committee on Education and Labor Ranking Member (R-North Carolina) & Oversight Committee Republicans

In June of 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that students attend school in person. However, as late as January 2022, teachers’ unions were still promoting remote learning. That’s despite clear indications of the detriment to students’ mental and academic fitness.

Under the Biden Administration, the CDC allowed the American Federation of Teachers to modify official guidance and ensure many schools did not fully reopen.

Researchers say that prolonged school closures have resulted in acute learning loss, widened economic and racial inequality in learning, and that they created a mental health crisis for America’s youth. 

“Despite the clear harms to America’s students, we are concerned that school districts, particularly those that remained closed for over a year, have not spent the vast majority of funds made available during the pandemic. Instead of allowing these funds to languish, school districts should be using the money on evidenced-based interventions to get our students back on track or even school choice. Instead, many states and local school districts are failing to act or are using the funds on ‘new technology,’ positions that are not student-facing such as a Director of School Climate and Culture, or other pet projects that will not benefit students or put them back on the path to academic success,” wrote the Republican lawmakers. 


The letter to Secretary Cardona can be found here and below.

August 25, 2022

As members of the House Oversight Committee, we insist that you provide information on the Department of Education’s (Department) handling of COVID-19 relief funds. We, and the American people, are due an explanation on how and whether the Department is addressing the negative effects of prolonged school closures on children enrolled in K-12 programs across the country in light of the appropriation by Congress of a total of $263 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund (ESF)1 over the course of three pieces of legislation.2 According to media reports, the vast majority of these “emergency” funds remain unspent.3 Study after study shows the learning losses caused by prolonged pandemic school closures are compounding and preventing students from achieving academic success. Committee Republicans plan to ensure the Department is doing everything in its power to ensure states and school districts properly target funds to remedy the acute learning losses brought on by prolonged pandemic school closures.

School Closures Were Extremely Detrimental to Students; Virtual School Was a Failure

In June 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommended that “all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”4 Nevertheless, even as late as January 2022, teachers unions championed remote learning despite clear indications of harm to students’ mental and academic fitness.5 Under the Biden Administration, the CDC went so far as to allow the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a union that represents adults and not children, to modify the guidance to ensure schools did not fully reopen.6

1 Education Stabilization Fund, U.S. DEP’T OF EDUCATION, available at https://covid-relief-data.ed.gov/ (last visited Aug 23, 2022).
2 Pub. L. No. 116-136, Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (Mar. 27 2020): Pub. L. No. 116-260, Division M, Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA Act) (Dec. 27, 2020); Pub. L. No. 117-2, American Rescue Plan Act (ARP Act) (Mar. 11, 2021).
3 Chapman, Ben & Sara Randazzo, Billions in School Covid-Relief Funds Remain Unspent, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (May. 18, 2022).
4 Koioth, Trisha, AAP interim guidance on school re-entry focuses on mitigating COVID-19 risks, AM. ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS (Jun. 26, 2020).
5 Goldstein, Dana & Noam Scheiber, As More Teachers’ Unions Push for Remote Schooling, Parents Worry. So Do Democrats., N.Y. TIMES (Jan 8, 2022), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/08/us/teachers-unions-covid- schools.html.
6 Levine, Jon, Powerful teachers union influenced CDC on school reopenings, emails show, THE N.Y. POST (May 1, 2021).

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Secretary Cardona August 25, 2022 Page 2 of 5

Prolonged school closures and forced remote learning were abject policy failures. Across the board, we have witnessed sharp declines in reading and math scores from 2019 to 2021, though smaller declines in pass rates for students with access to more in-person instruction.7 Students whose classes were less disrupted in the 2020-21 school year lost only about 20 percent of math learning compared to losses of 50 percent for students who did not have access to in-person instruction.8 Experts conclude: “It’s pretty clear that remote school was not good for learning” and that “Students learned less if their school was remote than they would have in person.”9

School Closures Harmed the Most Vulnerable Students—Both Academically and Emotionally

School closures also “widened both economic and racial inequality in learning,” reversing progress made over the last few decades in closing the learning gap.10 Schools in urban areas attended by low income and minority children were kept closed longer.11 These children experienced the worst learning loss.12 Black and Latino students and low-income students fell further behind in learning than high-income, white, or Asian students.13 Professor Tom Kane, the author of a Harvard study, stated that school closures “will probably be the largest increase in educational inequity in a generation.”14 Since these closures were imposed by Democratic officials at the state and local level,15 it begs the question—what are these officials doing to catch children up?

In addition to direct evidence of widespread learning loss due to remote instruction, America’s students are experiencing a mental health crisis of unprecedented proportion. Compared to 2019, emergency room visits for suicide attempts were 51 percent higher for adolescent girls and 4 percent higher for adolescent boys in early 2021.16 Depression and anxiety symptoms doubled in youth during the pandemic.17 A 2021 National Institutes of Health study acknowledged the COVID-19 related disruptions to everyday life led to anxiety and depression, which in turn led teens to self-medicate.18

7 Jack, Rebecca et. al., Pandemic Schooling Mode and Student Test Scores: Evidence from U.S. School Districts (Apr. 26, 2022), available at https://emilyoster.net/wp-content/uploads/MS_Updated_Revised.pdf.
8 Leonhardt, David, Not Good for Learning, N.Y. TIMES (May 5, 2022) (relying on work by Professor Tom Kane at Harvard University).

Id.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Goldhaber, Dan, et al., The Consequences of Remote and Hybrid Instruction During the Pandemic, HARVARD UNIV. (May 2022), available at https://cepr.harvard.edu/files/cepr/files/5-4.pdf?m=1651690491.

13 Supra, n. 8.
14 Id.
15 Id.
16 Protecting Youth Mental Health: U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, DEPT. OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (Dec. 7, 2021), available at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-youth-mental-health-advisory.pdf.

17 Id.
18 Chopra, Deepti et. al., Prevalance of self-reported anxiety and self-medication among upper and middle socioeconomic strata amidst COVID-19 pandemic, J EDUC HEALTH PROMOT (Feb. 27, 2021), available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8057176/.

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Secretary Cardona August 25, 2022 Page 3 of 5

Despite the clear harms to America’s students, we are concerned that school districts, particularly those that remained closed for over a year, have not spent the vast majority of funds made available during the pandemic.19 Instead of allowing these funds to languish, school districts should be using the money on evidenced-based interventions to get our students back on track or even school choice. Instead, many states and local school districts are failing to act or are using the funds on “new technology,”20 positions that are not student-facing such as a Director of School Climate and Culture,21 or other pet projects that will not benefit students or put them back on the path to academic success.

To assist Committee Republicans in conducting oversight over billions of dollars in relief funds and how those funds will be used to benefit students who suffered due to school closures, please provide the following documents and information, covering the time period January 31, 2020, to the present unless otherwise indicated, no later than September 1, 2022:

  1. Documents sufficient to show the average length of time in days that schools were closed for in-person instruction disaggregated by State Educational Agency (SEA) and Local Educational Agency (LEA);
  2. All documents and communications relating to learning loss attributable to pandemic school closures;
  3. All policy guidance promulgated by the Department of Education to SEAs and LEAs related to the appropriate use of COVID-19 relief funds intended to benefit K-12 students;
  4. All Department of Education memoranda, guidance, trainings, or legal opinions relating to the appropriate use of COVID-19 relief funds by SEAs and LEAs intended to benefit K-12 students and the approval process for distributing funds based on a proposal;
  5. All documents and communications between employees of the Department of Education and any third-party, including but not limited to a teachers union, referring or relating to school reopening or COVID-19 protocols.
  6. All documents and communications between employees of the Department of Education and any third-party, including but not limited to a teachers union, referring or relating to the use of COVID-19 relief funds by SEAs and LEAs intended to benefit K-12 students;
  7. All documents and communications relating to any proposal or guidance on the use of COVID-19 relief funds on evidence-based interventions to remedy learning loss caused by school closures.

19 Supra, n. 3.
20 Supra, n.8.
21 Press Release: School Board Appoints Chief Academic Officer, Chief of Staff, Langston Administrator and Director of School Climate and Culture, ARLINGTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS (Jun. 23, 2022).

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Secretary Cardona August 25, 2022 Page 4 of 5

To make arrangements to deliver documents or ask any related follow-up questions, please contact Committee on Oversight and Reform Republican Staff at (202) 225-5074. The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the principal oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate “any matter” at “any time” under House Rule X. Thank you in advance for your compliance with this inquiry.

Sincerely,

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____________________________ James Comer
Ranking Member
Committee on Oversight & Reform

_________________________ Glenn S. Grothman
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on National Security

_________________________ Nancy Mace
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

_________________________ Jim Jordan
Member of Congress

__________________________ Clay Higgins
Member of Congress

____________________________ Virginia Foxx
Ranking Member
Committee on Education and Labor

_________________________ Michael Cloud
Ranking Member Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy

_________________________ Y vette Herrell
Ranking Member Subcommittee on Environment

_________________________ Bob Gibbs
Member of Congress

__________________________ Ralph Norman
Member of Congress

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Secretary Cardona August 25, 2022 Page 5 of 5

__________________________ Fred Keller
Member of Congress

__________________________ Andrew S. Clyde
Member of Congress

__________________________ Byron Donalds
Member of Congress

cc: The Honorable Carolyn Maloney, Chairwoman Committee on Oversight and Reform

The Honorable Bobby Scott, Chairman Committee on Education and Labor

The Honorable Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman Subcommittee on National Security

The Honorable Raja Krishnamoorthi, Chairman Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy

The Honorable Ro Khanna, Chairman Subcommittee on Environment

The Honorable Jamie Raskin, Chairman Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

__________________________ Andy Biggs
Member of Congress

__________________________ C. Scott Franklin
Member of Congress

__________________________ Mike Flood
Member of Congress

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