The Honorable Betsy Devos
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave SW
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Secretary DeVos,
This letter is in response to the recent release of a portal to track spending of CARES Act Education Stabilization Funds. The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (NAESPA) recognizes and supports the principle of transparency with the public in accounting for these essential funds allocated by Congress. However, the portal, and especially the accompanying press release by the U.S. Department of Education, fail to provide essential context for understanding the data, and therefore present a distorted and inaccurate portrait of how these funds are being used.
The press release states that the portal “clearly shows” awards and expenditures of CARES Act funds through September 30, 2020, and argues that many states and school districts have spent very little of the funds. However, this is a very misleading summary of the data.
- First, since this portal only shows funds that have been drawn down from the U.S. Treasury, it completely misses all funds that school districts have obligated or committed to specific purposes, but which have not yet been drawn down. For example, many school districts around the country have used this money for additional teachers, to keep class sizes lower and allow for more space and distancing. However, this portal would only show the cost of that teacher through September 2020, typically the first month of a ten-month contract. A quote is included saying that districts “have left significant sums of money sitting in the bank.” This example demonstrates why that statement is not accurate. The same is true for many other types of contracts, including for transportation, cleaning, and professional learning. Districts have planned and budgeted to use these funds in a multitude of ways to respond to the pandemic, and those obligations will not show up in this portal.
- Second, there is a complex process that occurs prior to the funds being drawn down from the U.S. Treasury that takes time to ensure all the necessary steps are followed to protect essential public funds. Therefore, there will not be a complete picture of the final expenditures through September 30, 2020 until some time in early 2021. Neither the portal nor the press release contain any explanation of these amounts being partial, and not final.
Many NAESPA members have been tasked with administering these desperately needed funds to schools and districts across the country. NAESPA appreciates the efforts of so many people--from the U.S. Department of Education to State Education Agency staff to local district and school leaders--who are responding to this pandemic and its unprecedented impact on our education system. NAESPA supports the need to be transparent with the American people regarding use of these funds. However, if the portal is truly designed to provide transparency to the American people, it must be accurate. NAESPA offers its services in revising the portal to provide proper context to fully understand the data. If you have questions or wish to discuss further, please contact NAESPA CEO Bob Harmon at email@example.com.
Jonas Zuckerman, President
National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (NAESPA)