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Schools districts balk at releasing COVID relief spending records despite public record law

Some school districts and charter schools are not releasing records showing how they spent their shares of $33.5 billion in federal COVID pandemic relief money in defiance of California’s public records law, CalMatters reported Thursday.

Both Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified refused to provide spending records to CalMatters. Four other districts, including Los Angeles Unified, haven’t said no — they just haven’t provided any records more than two months after being asked. The state Public Records Act gives agencies 10 days to determine if records responsive to a request exist and requires their prompt release.

“Nothing’s more basic to transparency than accounting for how public agencies spend money,” David Loy, the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition’s legal director, told Calmatters. “You’re spending the public’s money. You should be accounting for how you’re doing it.”

The spending has come with limited oversight and little transparency, according to the CalMatters investigation. No centralized state or federal database exists to show how schools have spent this money. And data from the districts’ quarterly spending reports provided to the state are so broad as to be virtually useless in tracking this COVID relief money.