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Texas top heads of state announced Wednesday that they were releasing $ 11.2 billion of nearly $ 18 billion to fund the federal pandemic slated for the state’s public schools.
The announcement comes as education advocates and Democratic lawmakers over the past few weeks have urged officials to release the money allocated by Congress to Texas public schools to help address learning loss and cover spending on pandemic education.
It is unclear how the state plans to spend the remaining $ 7 billion in stimulus funds provided through multiple aid packages in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That funding couldn’t be released immediately due to federal requirements, state officials said.
“The state of Texas is ensuring that our public schools have the resources they need to help Texan students recover from learning losses related to COVID-19,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a press release.
The US representative Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, criticized the heads of state and called the announcement “belated”.
“State Republicans are barely allowed to pat themselves on the back to end a blockade that should never have happened,” Doggett said. “After four months, Governor Abbott is still obstructing the distribution of the remaining $ 5.5 billion that Congress approved in December. To date, he has failed to provide justification for his delay and has tried to divert those funds away from our schools. The The future of our children is not a place where you can compromise and misuse state educational aid for non-educational purposes. “
State officials had previously argued that the reason they did not allocate the one-time funding to the schools was because they were waiting for guidance from the federal government on whether the state should increase funding for higher education to use the K-12 funding To make available.
Last week the federal government weighed and made it clear that the state must keep both university and public education funding in the same proportion to the budget as it did in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in order to unlock those dollars. In fact, it means that Texas would have to increase spending on higher education by $ 1.2 billion to unlock the K-12 stimulus dollars.
Abbott has filed for a federal waiver that would allow Texas to bypass rising spending on higher education, but no decision has been made as to whether the waiver was granted. His office did not answer questions about what this announcement means for higher education funding or why public school funding was released. The announcement states that lawmakers will work to resolve open questions about the distribution of the remainder of the federal funds by the end of the legislative term.
Proponents of K-12 and higher education argue that it is worth increasing funding for higher education to get the nearly $ 18 billion in aid to K-12 schools.
“The state is seeking a federal waiver to avoid this additional spending, but that’s wrong, especially at a time when our universities need extra funding to cover the additional costs incurred during the pandemic,” said the faculty of Texas Association President Pat Heintzelman in a press release this week.
School districts also urged the state to release the money because they need to know how much money schools are getting when developing budgets for the next year. While the funds could be used for a variety of resources, including additional mental health support, counselors and more staff, school principals increasingly feared they would run out of time to hire the staff they need without access to more money.
“This is a positive first step in getting the funds our schools need,” said Zeph Capo, president of the Texas American Federation of Teachers, in a statement. “It is unfortunate that it took almost two months for the governor to get to this point. Many districts that have considered cuts related to pandemic costs can now implement plans to help students catch up. “
The governor’s office and the Texas Education Agency have argued that the state has supported public education by fully funding virtual learning and maintaining fully funded school district budgets regardless of a drop in attendance. An Abbott spokesman also previously said the proportion of funding allocated to higher education has declined due to the increase in K-12 investments.
That money is on top of roughly $ 2.2 billion federal funding to help Texas public schools deal with the pandemic. It also comes after the state increased its investment in public education by more than $ 5 billion year over year in 2019.
Duncan Agnew contributed to this report.