AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers allocated more than $16 billion to combat the “COVID slide” — learning loss due to the pandemic.

The Texas COVID Learning Acceleration Supports program, or TCLAS, offers school district grants to help pay for extra tools to catch students up.

“We can’t afford for this child to fail and for the system to fail him,” Lisa Ownes said, talking about her nephew Kingstan. She advocates for his education.

Kingston is now in sixth grade, with special needs, and struggled when his classes went virtual last year.

“Because he processes things slowly, doing work on the computer for him is like doing double the work, because he can’t just do it on the computer, he has to do it on paper first,” Owens explained.

He’s not alone. The Texas Education Agency studied just how much COVID-19 impacted Texas students.

“Prior to COVID, in 2019, on average, we were at close to 50% proficiency in both reading and math across the state. After the COVID impact in 2021, we were at 43% in reading and only 35% in math,” Kelvey Oeser, TEA’s deputy commissioner of educator support, explained.

TCLAS program grants cover some accelerated learning courses during regular school hours.

But Owens said her nephew’s school district had trouble fitting those courses in without taking away from the existing curriculum. They took Kingstan out of band and then a writing class..

“When he tried out for percussion in band, he actually made it on his own. So you definitely didn’t want to take that away from him,” she explained.

Afterschool programs were already part of the state’s grants. But this coming semester, the state is increasing grants offered for the TCLAS after-school programs.

“We heard this as an additional want, need from our districts… it could go towards personnel costs for district staff to run the afterschool program or afterschool programming, if they are partnering with a nonprofit, technical assistance,” Oeser explained.

“Actually having time to be focused on that may be more successful than just trying to squeeze it into your day,” Owens said. She was a teacher for 16 years and said she has seen the success these afterschool programs can have with proper funding and resources.

“I’ve actually worked in those programs to tutor third, fourth and fifth graders in math and reading intervention in the past. It makes a long day for those kids. But because there’s something fun and engaging to do and time for homework, in addition to the tutoring, it usually works pretty well,” Owens said.

This funding, which can cover personnel, also lightens the burden on teachers already overwhelmed in each district.

“We definitely don’t want districts to be putting this on top of teachers on top of everything else that teachers have on their plates, especially without additional funding and support in order to do that,” Oeser said.

The deadline for school districts to apply for the afterschool program is Nov. 12. School districts have the discretion to determine which students qualify, and the TEA says it should always be optional.