$11.2B heading to Texas schools to combat learning loss, help with COVID-19 expenses

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than $11 billion in federal stimulus funds will begin trickling down to Texas school districts to be used to offset unexpected expenses from COVID-19 and increased learning loss attributed to the pandemic.

This comes as public education advocates have increasingly applied pressure to state leadership, acknowledging that 48 of the 50 states had already begun dispersing their share of federal funds to local school districts.

“The State of Texas is ensuring that our public schools have the necessary resources to help Texas students recover from learning loss related to COVID-19,” said Governor Abbott. “To ensure this pandemic does not become a generational education crisis, we expect, and students deserve, for this funding to be used to remediate the progress lost due to the pandemic. This will ensure that Texas students will be ready to fill the jobs created in and attracted to this state.”

The source of the money traces back to the U.S. Department of Education, under the guidance of President Trump and President Biden, who approved the dispersal of nearly $18 billion dollars to Texas through three separate stimulus packages.

Last year, during the legislative hiatus, Gov. Greg Abbott made the executive decision to use the $1.3 billion in the initial federal funding package to supplant the existing funding formula for public schools outlined by the state. The state provided only a fraction of what the federal government intended and instead channeled the money to other public safety needs like increased testing capacity and personal protective equipment statewide.

On Wednesday, Governor Abbott announced the release of $11.2 billion from the remaining two stimulus packages, equating to two-thirds of the entire pot. Abbott says the final one-third will be distributed upon approval of the U.S. Department of Education since the legislation “came with significant strings attached.”

Abbott says those details are being worked out between the federal government and the Texas Education Agency to ensure that school districts and the state will not be penalized at a later date for misuse of funds.

Education advocates applauded the decision, but remained cautious, saying they expect nothing less than the full $17.9 billion to make their way to Texas school districts.

“Now, we urge the state to consult with educators and do whatever is necessary to free up the remainder of the stimulus money that the federal government has allocated to Texas schools and release it to school districts,” the Texas State Teachers Association wrote. “TSTA also will closely monitor the remainder of the Legislature’s budget-setting process to ensure that there will be absolutely no reduction in state funding to public education to offset even part of these federal funds.”

TEA Processing

The Texas Education Agency opened its portal on Thursday for school districts to begin submitting their applications to receive their share of federal funds. The TEA says the remaining 1/3 of the package will be held by the United States Department of Education.

The agency said there is not an exact timeframe for when the remaining third of funds will be delivered to Texas, however, a state plan is due on June 7, forcing state legislators to act with just a little over one month left.

Local District Impact

Over the last year, school districts have spent millions of dollars on COVID-19 related expenses — from personal protective equipment to new technology.

In the Pflugerville ISD, those expenses totaled around 14 million dollars. The financial crisis only worsened when the district failed to meet it’s enrollment numbers and lost state funding the state provides to fast-growing districts.

“Pflugerville has seen some of the most difficult challenges this district has probably ever faced,” said PFISD Chief Operating Officer Ed Ramos.

That’s why these federal funs are being so happily received.

“Not only can we reimburse ourselves for expenses that we used to address the pandemic, but now we can move forward with the challenges that the pandemic has left us with, including learning loss,” Ramos said.

These financial strains are virtually universal. Here are how some other central Texas districts fared through the pandemic:

  • Round Rock ISD
    • COVID-19 Related Expenses: $8.8 million
    • Approximate total of federal funds expected to be received: $29.1 million
    • Plans for future spending: Addressing learning loss, technology, cleaning and disinfecting, social and emotional support for students and staff
  • Hays CISD:
    • COVID-19 Related Expenses: $3.6 million
    • Approximate total of federal funds expected to be received: $17.4 million
    • Plans for future spending: Tools to close learning gaps, safety equipment, supplies
  • Leander ISD:
    • COVID-19 Related Expenses: $3.7 million
    • Approximate total of federal funds expected to be received: $15.7 million
    • Plans for future spending: Targeting learning loss for the 2021/2022 school year

The Austin Independent School District is expecting to receive around $150 million, which will first go to reimbursing unexpected COVID-19 expenses over the past year. The remainder, Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde says, will be up for discussion among other stakeholders like teachers, parents, civic leaders and district staff.

“We need to engage our stakeholders and make sure students are part of that conversation,” Elizalde said.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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