Newly inaugurated State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick said Monday that auditing federal COVID-19 relief funds and how local school districts spend money will be his top priorities during the coming four years.
Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Shell Knob in southwest Missouri, was sworn in at noon Monday to replace Nicole Galloway, a Democrat who did not seek re-election after two terms as auditor. Fitzpatrick was state treasurer until he was sworn into his new job, and was elected four times to the Missouri House.
The massive federal COVID-19 spending through state and local governments needs to be monitored and reviewed, Fitizpatrick said.
“This explosion of spending at all levels of government has made it easier and more likely for taxpayer money to be wasted, misappropriated or even stolen,” he said.
With the inauguration of Fitzpatrick, Republicans hold all statewide elective offices for the first time since just after the Civil War.
The state auditor by law must review spending by state agencies and counties that do not have a county auditor. The auditor has the authority to audit any school district and may, at the invitation of a local government or as a result of a petition from residents, audit any local political subdivision.
The authority to audit school districts, expanded in 2008, has been rarely used, Fitzpatrick noted in his short speech after being sworn in by Chief Judge Jack Goodman of the Southern District Court of Appeals.
On average, he said, there has been one school district audit per year. There are more than 500 school districts in the state.
School districts are required by law to have audits conducted every two years of all financial, transportation and attendance records. Fitzpatrick said his reviews would go beyond those financial concerns to look at performance.
Two-thirds of Missouri schoolchildren are not proficient in math for their grade level and half are reading below grade level, Fitzpatrick said.
Prior to Monday, he had also said he wanted to dig into whether districts were using “critical race theory” as the basis of curriculum about racial history and current race relations. He said any audits of the curriculum would be guided by legislation expected this year.
How, or if, the General Assembly addresses critical race theory, he said, “will determine how we take a look at that,” he said.
A survey of over 400 Missouri school districts administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2021 found only one district — Kansas City Public Schools — said it teaches lessons about critical race theory.
Gov. Mike Parson appointed Fitzpatrick as treasurer in 2019 after Eric Schmitt was appointed attorney general. Fitzpatrick won re-election as treasurer in 2020 and entered the auditor’s race after Galloway withdrew.
Parson appointed Vivek Malek of Cape Girardeau to replace Fitzpatrick as treasurer. Malek will be sworn in on Jan. 17.
Galloway said before the ceremony that she is returning to private employment and has no immediate plans to re-enter politics.