After book controversy, Williamson Co. leaders approve millions in funding for Round Rock, Leander schools

Williamson County

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — The Round Rock and Leander Independent School District will each receive several million dollars from Williamson County CARES Act funding, after all.

Last week, County Commissioners voted to set aside roughly $14 million of remaining federal funds for area schools, but withheld the distribution of funds to those two specific school districts.

They made the choice to wait because of an ongoing debate about the content of certain books on the shelves in those districts. After hours of discussion at this Tuesday’s meeting, the court voted to disburse the funds to the districts — but with some stipulations.

RRISD will receive roughly $5 million, but the court said the district must adhere to its own established timelines and policy for reviewing certain books that parents file complaints about.

LISD will receive around $3.7 million, but the district must use the money to reimburse “eligible line items provided by the district to the county treasurer, with no substitutions.” Commissioner Cynthia Long, who made the motion to add this stipulation, noted “that did not include books.”

The court also voted to require LISD staff conduct a “full and complete” review of 11 books, and whether they belong in campus and digital libraries. To receive the funds, LISD must publish a report on this review to their Board of Trustees and post it to the district website by April 30, 2022.

Commissioner Long was referring to 11 books the district had previously removed from optional curriculum, high school student choice book clubs and classroom libraries, after a different review, but that still remained on campus in other capacities.

An LISD statement released Tuesday read, “We have spent 16 months working with our community and Board to refine a process and policy for reviewing instructional materials. The last 16 months have taught us that decisions regarding instructional resources and children are not uniform for all families. This is why we have rallied around the choice and voice of our community and families. We will continue to do so, aligning with the vision, local control, and governance of our independently elected Board of Trustees.

A spokesperson for Round Rock ISD told KXAN News in an email, “We are very glad that Williamson County Commissioners approved the additional CARES Act funding that will directly benefit Round Rock ISD students. This funding is specifically designated to help school districts navigate the added expenses brought on by the pandemic and is a much-needed and much-appreciated resource as we continue to navigate through these challenging times.”

The Commissioners and Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell said they met with leaders at both districts to understand the review policies and processes.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Gravell explained that they put criteria and requirements on other programs funded by the CARES Act.

He said, “We’ve chosen to pour that money back into our community where there have been needs. But please do not misunderstand this: every single person that has received funds, must be accountable. No one is above accountability.”

Tensions ran high in the hours leading up to the court’s vote, with more than 40 parents and county residents signed up to speak. Some urged the court to disperse the funds, while others begged the court to focus on the content of the books in question and withhold the funds from the district.

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