AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s about $17 billion on the line and Texas educators are worried they’ll never see it.
A rally outside the Texas Capitol on Tuesday raised voices and demanded that federal stimulus funds, earmarked for Texas schools, make it there.
Raise Your Hand Texas organized a series of student performances and provided a compelling metaphor: Surrounding the students, parents, teachers, administrators and other education advocates were stools, signifying three demands for lawmakers to prop up public schools.
- 1st Leg of Stool: Maintain funding lawmakers promised in 2019 through the historic HB 3 school finance legislation
- 2nd Leg of Stool: Hold schools harmless from pandemic-related enrollment drops
- 3rd Leg of Stool: Flow funds from federal stimulus packages to public schools
Raise Your Hand Texas even installed a larger-than-life, six-foot tall, three-legged stool inside of the capitol to remind lawmakers what’s at stake.
“This is about kids and doing right by Texas children,” said Libby Cohen, the Director of Advocacy for Raise Your Hand Texas. “Those federal dollars are available, they are accessible and we need to act with a tremendous sense of urgency to get those dollars to our schools as quickly as possible.”
Lawmakers point to a number of reasons for the delay.
Most public education committee members KXAN spoke to said the interactions between federal and state government can be complex and often requires delicate maneuvering. The most common cause for concern from legislators is that the details haven’t been fine-tuned and revealed yet by the U.S. Department of Education.
“I think everyone knows that when we see federal dollars come in, there will be strings and there will be rules on how you can spend it,” said Republican House Public Education Committee member Rep. Ken King. “I would like to see it go directly to the districts in every possible way it can. But it’s hard to answer when the federal government hasn’t told the states the rules yet.”
The Texas Education Agency has also shared that a final amount has not even been awarded yet and that it is making plans based on “unofficial funding allocation projections.”
Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, who served in the leadership position for more than a decade, urged his colleagues to quickly decipher the fine print and get the money to superintendents across the state.
“I don’t think there is any detail in this or any string attached that can’t be overcome in this situation,” Straus said. “It shouldn’t be a philosophical fight over what the government is instructing the state to do with these dollars. And it certainly shouldn’t be an impediment to getting these dollars flowing to schools now. Every day that is lost makes our local school official jobs much more difficult.”
Raise Your Hand Texas reports 43 states have already begun the process of distributing their share of the federal funds to their local school districts. For perspective, Education Austin, the union representing thousands of Austin ISD employees, estimates that AISD would receive over $241.5 million.