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State Auditor Elaine Howle, critic of funding formula spending, to retire

California State Auditor Elaine Howle, whose critique of district spending patterns built the case for the first significant change to the Local Control Funding Formula, announced her retirement Monday at the end of the year.

Howle, 63, had been the state auditor more than 21 years and worked in the independent auditor’s office for 36 years.

Howle perhaps will be best remembered for her sharply worded audit of the Employment Development Department’s extremely low response rate during the Covid recession to workers’ phone calls for assistance — an issue her office had raised a dozen years earlier during the Great Recession, with no improvement. She castigated the department’s “significant missteps and inaction” in a related audit that estimated the department had been subject to $10.4 billion in fraud from fake claims for unemployment.

Howle’s 2019 audit of how San Diego, Oakland and Clovis spent money targeted for low-income students and English learners under the Local Control Funding Formula pointed to flaws in the 2013 law and poor oversight by county offices of education. This year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law one of her recommendations: prohibiting districts from using leftover funding for targeted student groups however they want the following year. Other recommendations to make it easier to track spending for those students have not been adopted.

In an audit earlier this month, Howle criticized the California Department of Education for a lackluster system of auditing record levels of federal Covid relief distributed to school districts.

An audit in 2020 found that the University of California admitted at least 64 wealthy, mostly white students who were well-connected to donors and well-known families.