Congressional Republicans seek answers on school’s $80,000 equity audit

A local school district used $80,000 in COVID-19 relief funds for an "equity audit."

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer/Facebook

(The Center Square) — After a school district spent $80,000 of federal COVID-19 stimulus funds on an “equity audit” instead of plugging learning loss holes, Minnesota’s U.S. lawmakers are asking questions.

Reps. Tom Emmer, Pete Stauber, Jim Hagedorn, and Michelle Fischbach signed a letter asking Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the use of COVID-19 relief funding for “equity audit” services in the Sartell-St. Stephen School District.

Reports say ISD 748 entered into an $80,000 contract with Equity Alliance Minnesota to use COVID-19 relief funding for services aimed at helping teachers and staff “understand how culture, power, and race impact self and others.”

Neither ISD 748 nor Equity Alliance Minnesota has responded to requests for comment.

In a Monday letter to parents, Superintendent Dr. Jeffery P. Ridlehoover wrote: “The purpose of the audit was to gain insight into the student experience and provide the best possible — and comprehensive — school experience for each of our learners.”

As part of that contract, Sartell-St. Stephen students were reportedly forced to participate in an “equity survey,” which made some of them feel “very uncomfortable.”

Fourth-grader Haylee Yasgar called out the school district in a meeting last week.

“My teacher said that I could not skip any questions even when I didn’t understand them. One question asked us what gender we identify with. I was very confused along with a lot of other classmates,” Yasgar said.

She said students were told they could not “repeat any of the questions to our parents.”

Emmer said the reports “deeply troubled” him. He questioned the federal government’s oversight of the billions of dollars unleashed nationwide.

“The federal government authorized trillions of dollars in COVID relief spending to help businesses and families combat the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” Emmer wrote.

“The use of taxpayer dollars to fund an audit of this nature seems extraneous at best, which is why we are asking Secretary Yellen for information about what the Treasury Department is doing to ensure these funds are used in accordance with the intent of the laws that provided them.”