Congress has allocated $ 19 billion in stimulus funding for Texas public education, but schools have yet to see a dime extra
For more than a year, the federal government has injected billions of dollars into school districts across the country to help them meet the demands of the pandemic. Most states have used this pot of stimulus funds as Congress intended: purchasing personal protective equipment for students and teachers, laptops for children who learn at home, improved ventilation systems for school buildings to prevent transmission of the virus and cover other costs.
But in Texas, local schools have yet to see an extra dime of the more than $ 19 billion in federal stimulus funding given to the state. After Congress passed the first stimulus bill last year, officials used the state’s $ 1.3 billion education share to fill other gaps in the government budget. State, leaving public schools with few additional resources to pay for the costs of the pandemic.
Now educators and advocacy groups fear the state will do the same with the remaining $ 17.9 billion for Texas public schools from the other two stimulus packages. Due to federal requirements, Texas must invest more than $ 1 billion from the state’s own budget in higher education to receive the third round of stimulus funding for K-12 public schools. Experts said the state had requested a waiver to avoid sending this extra money to higher education, but the process has caused significant delays for local districts receiving the funds they desperately need.
“School principals’ budgets are swallowed up with personal protective equipment, with one-to-one tutoring, trying to get the kids back, while the legislature is sitting on a heap of money,” Michelle said. Smith, vice president of policy and advocacy for Raise. Your Texas hand. “And that will impact our school districts not just this school year, but for many school years to come.”
A spokesperson for Governor Greg Abbott told the Texas Tribune that heads of state are waiting for more advice from the US Department of Education before turning on the tap and letting billions of dollars flow to school districts.
Due to the state’s waiver request, Texas lawmakers are unlikely to decide how to allocate the money until they receive a response from Washington DC or the legislature finalizes its plans for the state budget. But the waiver only applies to the latest stimulus package, so the state could release $ 5.5 billion for education from the second relief bill at any time.
Libby Cohen, director of advocacy and outreach for Raise Your Hand Texas, said dozens of states are already sending those federal dollars to public schools, and the most recent stimulus package also includes advice on how to ‘use that money. Texas and New York are the only two states to have provided no additional funding for public schools during the pandemic, according to Laura Yeager, founder of Just Fund It TX.
“We find it baffling that Texas is holding back this particular problem so much,” Cohen said. “The dollars are there… and districts need to know if they’re coming and when they’re coming because they are writing their budgets right now and making decisions about summer programming right now. “
Many teachers and administrators in Texas say they need the money now and want the Legislature to start funneling federal funds to school districts as soon as possible.
But state lawmakers with the most power over budgeting and funding education want the legislature, instead of local school districts, to decide what to do with those federal stimulus dollars.
“Federal funds will ultimately go to school districts, but the overarching question is how these funds should be spent and who should make that decision? Said Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston chairman of the House public education committee. “I believe the primary obligation to educate the children of Texas rests with the legislature under the Texas Constitution.”
The reluctance of the Legislature to release funding complicates the way forward for educators in the state. Dr Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, said he was already developing two different plans for next year’s budget: one including federal relief funding. intended for the school district and a contingency plan for the move to move forward without.
If Cypress-Fairbanks ISD does end up receiving its expected share of the stimulus education funding, Henry said he plans to shift those dollars to the mental health support services that students will need as they transition to school. in-person learning this coming fall. Many districts in Texas have struggled to hire students this year, and many students have simply stopped taking online classes.
“We’re looking at high school kids who are disengaged and dropping out of school,” Smith said. “And instead of giving school districts extra resources to pick up these kids, these kids are being lost right now.”
A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency said districts can still access first federal stimulus bill funding by submitting a grant application to the department, but experts added that such regulations often discourage school districts. smaller with fewer resources trying to receive the funds.
“Even though school buildings have closed due to the pandemic two-thirds of the school year, Texas school districts are fully funded for the entire 2019-2020 school year,” the spokesperson said. “Despite the significant reductions in economic activity caused by the COVID-19-related closures, it is important to note that funding for school districts has been fully preserved here in Texas, which many have not. other states of the country. “
On Tuesday morning, representatives from Raise Your Hand Texas left a six-foot-tall stool in the State Capitol building with the message “Fund TxEd Recovery.” Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed a minor state budget amendment requiring that no education stimulus “be used to reduce state funding for local education agencies.” .
Adding the language to the budget offered a key victory for education advocates in Texas, but the state Senate refused to include nearly all of the nearly $ 18 billion in federal funds earmarked for education. Texas public schools in the new version of the budget it passed on Tuesday afternoon. In a press release, the Texas State Teachers Association described educators as “angry” with members of the Senate over the decision.
“There are a lot of people who make decisions about education who have never spent a day teaching a class, running a campus or leading a school district,” Henry said. “So as long as you have people making decisions that have never been in those roles, they’re not going to make big decisions. “
(Disclosure: Raise Your Hand Texas and the Texas State Teachers Association have financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. financial backers play no role in The Tribune journalism. list of them here.)
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