JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick took office Monday during a ceremony at the Jefferson City Capitol building, pledging that reviews of K-12 public schools will be a top priority for his office.

“Parents and taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent by their schools and that their kids are being provided an appropriate education,” Fitzpatrick said in a speech to supporters and fellow elected officials.

Serving as the 39th state auditor, Fitzpatrick said he expects to find fraud and embezzlement when investigating local municipalities and K-12 schools. 

“What we’ve had here in the last few years, is unprecedented amounts of money being sent to local governments that they’ve never received before with very few strings attached, so there has to be a level of concern,” Fitzpatrick said. “The response to COVID resulted in the most significant increases in government spending in our lifetime.”

Fitzpatrick said of the 500-plus school districts in the state, on average only one is audited a year. 

“The reality of it is that two-thirds of the kids in Missouri are not proficient in math or in science, according to our own tests, and over half the kids do not read at grade level despite schools receiving record funding each year,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s the second-largest expenditure of taxpayer money in our state, behind social welfare programs, is K-12 education.”

The 35-year-old Republican replaced former Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway, who chose not to run for another term after making a failed bid for Missouri governor in 2020. Fitzpatrick thanked Galloway, who attended his inauguration, for her help as he transitioned into the Auditor’s Office.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson named Fitzpatrick state treasurer in 2018 after Eric Schmitt left the office to replace now-Sen. Josh Hawley as attorney general.

Voters re-elected Fitzpatrick as treasurer in 2020, then voted him auditor in 2022.

He previously led state budgeting work in the legislature as the former House Budget Committee chairman.

Parson appointed Vivek Malek, an immigration lawyer in St. Louis and a Southeast Missouri State University curator, as treasurer to replace Fitzpatrick. Malek will be sworn in next week.