Randy Yohe Published

Audit Reveals Millions In Misspent COVID-19 Relief Funds By W.Va. School Districts

Blonde haired woman with bright red lipstick sitting between two men asking questions
Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, asking questions on school district COVID-19 fund misspending.
Will Price/WV Legislative Photography

Auditors working for the legislature with the Performance Evaluation and Research Division (PERD), identified numerous violations of multiple school districts making unallowable expenditures and improper purchasing procedures with federal emergency relief funding. 

The auditors presented the findings Monday to lawmakers gathered in Wheeling for interim meetings.

Beginning in March 2020, the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) distributed more than $1.2 billion for COVID-19 pandemic support. Brandon Burton, the research manager for PERD, presented the audit. He detailed the limited alleged oversight by the WVDE regarding the spending of funds.

“Of the 54 LEAs’ (Local Education Agencies) reviewed, 37 were deemed non-compliant for either improper purchasing procedures, expenditures on allowable activities, and/or exceeding the indirect cost,” Burton said. 

He said with some of the school districts, the WVDE found compliant with relief fund spending, the audit showed otherwise.

“Collectively, the seven LEA samples in question contain improperly documented purchases totaling over $285,000,” Burton said.

The audit found school districts had overused the pandemic provision of using unregistered vendors, a use he said could lead to using fraudulent vendors. Burton said most of the unregistered vendors were from out of state, some from foreign countries. 

West Virginia had already taken control of the Logan and Upshur school districts with issues that include misspending of the funds. 

The state has a September 2024 deadline to spend more than $476 million remaining in federal funds. The audit recommends the WVDE increase its oversight of school districts’ spending by adding staff. Burton said the WVDE seems unlikely to make that happen.

“The WVDE indicated that it has no intention of increasing capacity since the deadline to spend the funds is 10 months away,” Burton said.

Burton said the WVDE’s relief fund monitoring system was flawed on many fronts.

“The fiscal monitoring system lacks appropriate risk assessment,” he said. “The frequency of improper purchasing procedures and other grant violations warranted a reassessment risk and adjustment to the system’s capacity and structure. The current monitoring process lacks appropriate structure and due to a lack of written policies and procedures.” 

Melanie Purkey, the WVDE senior officer for Federal Programs, told lawmakers the height of the pandemic prompted rash decisions among school districts.

“I think school systems were in a panic of, we found a vendor who can supply this, we’re gonna buy it,” Purkey said. “People all over the country were having trouble buying masks, hand sanitizers, even computers in the first round.”

Purkey said some of the school district spending did not happen in real time, but at the end of a fiscal period.   

“The monitoring doesn’t occur until the fiscal year ends, which means you don’t catch it as it’s happening,” Purkey said.

Purkey said while the WVDE is working on updating internal policies to emergency purchasing procedures, state reviews will continue on how school boards spent pandemic relief funds.