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To combat the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic, President Joe Biden pushed for the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
The $1.9 trillion ARP sent direct payments to millions of Americans, and contains significant funding for families with children, but also sends billions of dollars to states to help fund a number of essential programs, including healthcare, payroll protection, childcare, housing, transportation, and education.
For Texas, the money provided for public education alone is estimated at $12.4 billion. To put this amount into perspective, the historic House Bill 3 passed in 2019 was only $6.5 billion over two years, which was the most money ever budgeted for public schools by a single act of the state legislature.
What’s the Issue?
While the funding set aside for Texas public schools has the potential to be transformative, Texas educators and parents should be concerned schools will never see any of it.
This is with good reason.
The first round of stimulus funding didn’t make it to schools. Texas school districts expected federal pandemic funding provided in 2019 would cover coronavirus-related expenses, but instead much of the money has been retained by the state and has not been distributed to districts.
Having learned from the first two rounds of federal stimulus, Congress is now requiring states who accept the ARP funding to move it to districts, without backing out state funding or reducing the percentage of education funding in state budgets. The point of the ARP is meant to provide additional funds, not allow states to fill their own budget holes.
This is especially important as school districts are incurring significant costs they never contemplated before a pandemic, ranging from having to purchase PPE for teachers, staff, and students, to new sanitary procedures, and costs associated with ongoing remote learning requirements. Furthermore, there is additional funding specifically allocated to addressing learning loss through extended school days, extending the school year, summer programming, etc. All of these things cost money if children are to “catch up” and remain competitive moving into the future, which is exactly what the ARP funding is for.
The question remains will Texas public schools see any of it?
What’s the Solution?
The combined federal stimulus packages provide an opportunity to respond to the pandemic’s devastating effects on student learning. The money should be given to public schools. To redirect funding the federal government intended to help schools and children would add to their burden and impede recovery.
Some legislators and state officials have discussed rejecting the federal stimulus due to the requirements associated with the funding, but the hope is serious leaders will remain focused on investing in the future competitiveness of Texas and use this as an opportunity to make a transformational investment in schools and students.