Houston Public Media: Houston-Area Schools To Benefit From Governor’s Release Of COVID-19 Funds
Local school districts are praising the governor for releasing $11.2 billion dollars in federal COVID relief funds.
For many districts, the money is coming in the nick of time.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan announced the release of the funds last week. Abbott had been planning to divert the funding away from schools, but lifted the hold just as school districts are building budgets for the next academic year.
Houston Independent School District released a statement thanking the three state leaders.
“This will give district administrators and the HISD Board of Trustees an opportunity to build a robust budget for the upcoming school year that will address our priorities,” the statement read.
The funds are intended to help schools recover from the pandemic over the next three years. Two-thirds of the funds will be available immediately under grants administered by the Texas Education Agency. The final portion will be distributed after approval from the U.S. Department of Education. The funding is formally part of the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER III.
HISD is set to receive more than $800 million in federal dollars, according to the district.
Fort Bend ISD similarly praised the release of funds, saying the move was particularly timely, as the district must finalize its budget for the next academic year by June.
“The funding would help FBISD finalize plans for student intervention programs to address areas of need such as the COVID-19 academic slide and provide reimbursement for COVID-19 expenses incurred – including personal protective equipment, technology related to online learning, contact tracing, and wellness monitors,” the district said.
Fort Bend ISD estimated it would receive more than $63 million, or approximately two-thirds of the funds it is due.
“The ESSER III funds would be utilized to pay for $15.1 million of strategic FBISD priorities related to COVID-19, making unnecessary the potential three cent disaster penny tax rate increase that was previously discussed by the Board (of Trustees),” the statement read.
While local school districts are framing the release of funds positively, Democratic members of Texas’ congressional delegation say that the Abbott administration is only giving up the funds after being forced to do so by outside pressure.
“While I think this is a cause for celebration, it is belated,” said Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. “This should have been done four months ago. I think that the governor yielded to the reality that he could not get away with taking all these monies for non-educational purposes when we clearly intended them for education purposes.”
Doggett also charged the governor with continuing to hold back some of the funds that Congress had carved out for Texas schools.
“Gov. Abbott is still trying to keep $5.5 billion,” he said. “This is really not a matter to compromise. All of this money was intended for our schools, not for his piggy bank.”