Report Says Tennessee Schools Spent COVID-19 Funds on Unrelated Projects

A new report by the Beacon Center of Tennessee says that $4 billion worth of federal COVID-19 relief funding allocated to Tennessee’s school systems was largely spent on items unrelated to COVID-19.

“The data suggests that Tennessee public schools have budgeted or spent millions of dollars on areas that had little to nothing to do with COVID or student performance,” said Beacon Research Associate and report author Jason Edmonds. “School districts across the state budgeted tens of millions of dollars for ‘indirect costs’ without any further explanation and also funded pet projects such as walk-in coolers and retractable bleachers.”

For example, in Davidson County, $3 million was spent on design services for a new elementary school. The county also spent $250,000 on private art and music lessons for students, and $100,000 for “Artists-In-Residence” partnerships.

“Metro Nashville Public Schools received over $425 million in federal relief funding in response to the pandemic. Though these funds were meant to combat the pandemic and learning loss, they came with few strings attached,” the report said.

“Records show MNPS has budgeted relief funds on items such as private music lessons and design services, to over a million dollars for a bare-bones website. While district leaders claim they need more tax dollars, as of July 2022, MNPS has only spent 18% of its federal relief funds,” it continued.

In Hamilton County, $5 million of the overall $142 million received was spent renovating existing buildings, while lesser but still substantial amounts were spent on new buildings and remodeling.

Knox County received $178 million in federal relief funding.

It spent nearly $100,000 of that money on commercial kitchen equipment, “apartment life supplies,” and undefined travel costs.

Meanwhile, in Shelby County, nearly all of the $775 million in pandemic relief funds is unaccounted for.

“Most concerning is the lack of transparency around these dollars, with SCS budgeting nearly $34 million on ‘Indirect Costs’ with no other information provided,” the report said. “As of July 2022, SCS has spent $178 million of its federal funds, or less than one-quarter of its total funds.”

The report says that parents should be questioning the spending decisions of the schools, and demanding that they spend the funds on academics and other pressing needs.

“Districts should use their remaining portions of historic relief funding to focus on the most pressing needs of students, getting children on track to excel in academics and addressing mental health issues stemming from school closures and the pandemic,” Edmonds said.

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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Metro Nashville Public Schools” by Metro Nashville Public Schools.


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3 Thoughts to “Report Says Tennessee Schools Spent COVID-19 Funds on Unrelated Projects”

  1. Molly

    Well, well, well
    Hey Jonathan Skrmetti Tn AG & Penny Schwinn Tn Ed Comm. Here is your second case of WASTE FRAUD & ABUSE.
    The first being the $10.2 million grant funding
    Oh, by the way Jonathan we want answers by the end of October
    What the heck I’m not voting for Billy again anyway.

  2. Randy

    Don’t spend another single penny. Take the full amount misappropriated out of the Administrators and School Board members budget and personal compensation. After they have worked it off, send each one responsible to prison for 20 years. So long as the public allows government to incentivize fraud this abuse will continue. The solution is not to give them more money or allow them to spend what is left..

    1. 83ragtop50

      Randy – I agree with you 100%. But is anyone really surprised that school boards and administrators literally raped the system for their pork projects?