State of Texas to Release Federal Stimulus Money to Schools

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the state plans to release federal stimulus money provided to help schools recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas received about $19 billion from the federal government, of which about $11 billion is currently available. The rest will be distributed following the U.S. Department of Education’s approval of a waiver to bypass certain conditions attached to the funds.

State educators and state Democrats have been pushing officials to release the money that the U.S. Congress set aside months ago to help schools around the country cover pandemic-related expenses and address learning-loss concerns. The funding has been available for some time, but hadn’t yet been passed on.

“It’s very important to the district,” said Dr. Robin Ryan, Superintendent of Grapevine-Colleyville ISD in Dallas, Texas. “Teachers, students, families are going to be the benefactors of this money.”

Dallas ISD is in a position to receive $500 million. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD is looking to receive $17 million, and Coppell ISD about $2 million.

Dr. Michael Hinojosa, Dallas ISD superintendent, said that 25% of the money is required to be spent dealing with learning loss, but he expects his district to funnel more than half of if toward that purpose—catching students up and redesigning summer school. It will also be used to construct more cell towers to allow Dallas students better Internet access.

School districts urged the state to release funds because they need to know how much money they will have available as they begin developing their budgets for next year. The districts expressed concern about running out of time to hire additional staff, like counselors, and to set up resources addressing mental health support.

“This is a positive first step in getting the funds our schools need,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers. “It’s unfortunate that it took nearly two months of pushing the governor to get to this point. Many districts that have been contemplating cuts related to pandemic expenses can now implement plans to help students catch up.”

The federal government has said that states must maintain the same proportion of higher education and public education funding as was indicated in the 2017, 2018, and 2019 state budgets. For Texas, this means increasing higher education spending by about $1.2 billion in order to have access to the K–12 stimulus money. Abbott has applied for a federal waiver that would allow Texas to bypass this requirement to increase higher education spending.

Education officials and advocates have said that increasing higher-education funding is well worth the reward of unlocking the full amount of allocated relief funds. “The state is seeking a federal waiver to avoid this additional spending, but that is the wrong thing to do, especially at a time when our institutions of higher education need the additional funding to cover extra expenses incurred during the pandemic,” said Pat Heintzelman, Texas Faculty Association President.

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