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After spending a significant portion of 2022 reporting on the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, or GEER, there are still unanswered questions. Mainly, I have been trying to find out what is happening with GEER 2, which is nearly $18 million for Oklahoma students to recover from the pandemic.
Gov. Kevin Stitt received those funds in January 2021 as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. (The first allocation of GEER funds, $40 million, was spent on five programs, and one of those has faced scrutiny because lax oversight allowed families to buy items unrelated to students’ education.)
Very little has been said publicly about GEER 2. We reported how the state solicited ideas for the funds back in December 2021, but ultimately held off as the first GEER programs were audited by the U.S. Department of Education.
The deadline to use GEER funds approaches. States have until the end of this month to fully spend the first round of GEER and until the end of January 2024 to spend the second, a U.S. Department of Education official said last week.
Programs have yet to be announced or awarded and the funds have to be distributed and spent in one year.
But one reason for the delay is the state is trying to rectify the oversight issues found from the first round. Roy Loewenstein, press secretary for oversight at the U.S. Department of Education, told me the department is working with Oklahoma officials to resolve the findings from a federal audit released this summer.
“In the interim,” Loewenstein said, “the state has been working to implement improved internal controls as required by the department’s monitoring of the state’s implementation of the program.”
One way state officials intend to recover misspent funds is through a lawsuit filed in August against the vendor, Florida-based ClassWallet. But Attorney General John O’Connor still hasn’t served the company with the lawsuit, which means ClassWallet has not been able to file its response to the allegations.
And the next attorney general, Gentner Drummond, told The Oklahoman he’ll consider dropping that lawsuit if he believes state officials were at fault.
— Jennifer Palmer
What I’m Reading
- Quarantines, more so than school closures, caused massive learning disruptions throughout the 2021-22 school year, according to an analysis of polls and Census Bureau data. Many schools did not provide live instruction to students during quarantine. [The 74]
- As Ryan Walters prepares to be sworn in as the next state superintendent of public instruction on Jan. 9, he continues to focus on school choice and ideology. Walters said he may continue as director of an education reform organization after taking office, a potential conflict of interest. [NonDoc]
- The U.S. Department of Education has logged a record number of discrimination complaints in schools. The complaints reflect grievances during the worst public health crisis in a century and the most divisive civil rights climate in decades. [The New York Times]
- State Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, has filed a bill that would raise the pay of school support employees, including bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, teacher’s assistants and paraprofessionals. [Tulsa World]
New on Oklahoma Watch
City leaders announced plans to invest $600,000 a year in a street outreach program. Advocates say successful efforts in Milwaukee and Houston could serve as examples. [Read More]
This year, 131 Oklahomans shared their struggles with mental health and finding care through an Oklahoma Watch survey. [Read More]
More than 100,000 Oklahomans live in so-called orphan counties, which receive little to no political coverage or advertisements of races in their own state. [Read More]
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