That’s a question many have been asking over the last three years that the federal government has been distributing money to schools.

Since 2021 North Carolina has received about $6.2 billion in federal Covid funds for K–12 schools. According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, school districts have spent about $5.8 billion, and schools have about $473.8 million in unspent funds.

The table listed below helps to answer the question posed above for the five largest school districts in North Carolina. .

Covid Funds and Percent Expended for Five Largest School Districts in North Carolina, 2021–24

School DistrictTotal Covid Funds ReceivedTotal Covid Funds ExpendedRemaining BalancePercent Expended on Salaries and BenefitsPercent Expended on Purchased ServicesPercent Expended on Supplies and MaterialsPercent Expended on Capital OutlayPercent Expended on Other Expenses  
Wake County Schools$437,286,459$412,352,501$24,933,95876%8%13%0.16%3%
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools$596,607,742$563,331,519$32,276,22360%19%13%1%8%
Guilford County Schools$367,466,441$336,118,624$31,347,81744%11%30%9%7%
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools$277,598,148$268,995,460$8,602,68756%14%24%0%5%
Cumberland County Schools $239,267,180$224,312,905$14,954,27648%11%13%21%7%
Total (All School Districts)$6,280,179,387$5,806,416,387$473,763,00052%11%21%11%5%

Table includes expenditures as of April 30, 2024

A quick review shows that the two largest districts — Wake County and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools — spent the highest percentage of Covid funds on salaries and benefits. Charlotte-Mecklenburg spent 60 percent; Wake County Schools 76 percent. Salaries and Benefits was the largest expenditure for all five largest school districts, with percentages ranging from 76 percent of all expenditures (Wake County Public Schools) to 48 percent of all expenditures in Cumberland County.

After Salaries and Benefits, the largest expenditure for this group was Supplies and Materials, with computers and technology being the largest expense for many.

What is also noticeable is the paucity of expenditures for capital outlay, with percentages ranging from 0 percent to 21 percent. Again, the percentages of expenditures from the two largest districts were 0.16 percent from Wake County and 1 percent from Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Forsyth County Schools also had 0 percent expenditures for Capital Outlay.

Considering the importance of HVAC to the health of children and staff and the time devoted to these discussions during the pandemic, the lack of spending on HVAC and other capital items is surprising. Last year Wake County had significant air-conditioning and heating/ventilation issues with a number of schools (see here). News stories highlighted the district’s lack of action or problems with getting parts or work done on time. Almost a year later, it’s surprising to see almost no covid funds have been used to fix these problems, even when dollars have been readily available.

The five largest school districts all have covid funds remaining to be expended. Yes, some of these balances have funds that are encumbered. Still, parents and policymakers should not hesitate to ask school boards and superintendents questions about how these funds are being spent —and especially so when the discussion turns to issues about teacher salaries and capital needs.