Federal audits on school spending

WPRI analysis: Wisconsin school districts call federal audits illogical, duplicative and burden to staff and taxpayers

For interviews or Word versions of stories, contact Project Editor Dan Benson
(414-225-9940 or Dan@wpri.org ) or WPRI President Mike Nichols (262-389-8239 or Mike@wpri.org ). Links to stories are available at www.wpri.org

Stories available for use by all media as long as the authors and the insitute are properly cited.

October 11, 2016 — Annual federal audits of how Wisconsin school districts spend federal grant funds are wasteful, duplicative and an illogical exercise that does nothing to improve education for the state’s schoolchildren, school district officials say in a new analysis by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

The analysis stems from a WPRI review of dozens of federal audits of Wisconsin school districts, showing that thousands of hours of staff time and millions of tax dollars statewide are spent by the state’s 400-plus districts preparing the audits.

New federal rules that went into effect this fall will exempt many smaller school districts — those that spend less than $750,000 annually in federal funds — from having to complete those audits. Federal audit rules, however, still apply to most districts. The very fact that even federal authorities apparently see little or no reason for the federal audits of districts each receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually begs the question of what larger districts gain from the requirement, what they lose and whether there is a better way.

The analysis by Dan Benson is part of WPRI’s “Federal Grant$tanding” project, a multi-year independent investigation of the growth in federal grants used by D.C. politicians to curry favor with voters, weaken local control and lessen government transparency. Accompanying Benson’s story is a sidebar on the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, which was threatened with having to repay $3.5 million to the feds, mostly for not completing paperwork correctly.

The 2,400-word analysis and 500-word sidebar are available from WPRI free of charge
 for media outlets interested in running them on their news or op-ed pages. A shortened 800-word version of the main story is available upon request. Contact Project Editor Dan Benson (
Dan@wpri.org or 414-225-9940). Links to this and other stories are available online at www.wpri.org

Dan Benson is a former reporter and editor with the Milwaukee Sentinel, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Gannett Wisconsin.

About grants-in-aid

The Federal Grant$tanding project focuses on so-called grants-in-aid to Wisconsin local and state government. The grants-in-aid system has grown slowly since the mid-20th century but has exploded in recent years. It has grown from just $7 billion in 1960 prior to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society to an estimated $628 billion today — about one-sixth of the federal budget. Wisconsin alone now receives nearly one-third of all its revenues from Washington, D.C., in the form of grants.

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, established in 1987, is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit think tank working to engage Wisconsinites in discussions and timely action on key public policy issues critical to the state’s future.