Tarrant County school districts could receive more than $970 million in funds from the two most recent federal stimulus bills, according to public education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas.
That money could be spent beefing up districts’ technology and stepping up efforts to combat learning loss. But not a single cent has trickled down to educators and students because the Texas Legislature has yet to free the funding for districts.
Those hundreds of millions of dollars could make a world of difference in the lives of students, many of whom are already behind because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The sooner school districts know what resources are actually available to them the better,” Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner told the Fort Worth Report. “We are prepared to use these funds to address student learning gaps through expanded instructional programming.”
The state has applied for a waiver from a congressional mandate that requires Texas to invest more than $1 billion in higher education to get the latest series of stimulus funding for K-12 public education. The Senate-approved version of the state’s next budget did not allocate any increases for higher education, The Dallas Morning News reported.
That waiver, though, only applies to the third pool of stimulus funds. Legislators could decide to open up the $5.5 billion from the second stimulus bill whenever they want. Texas received $12 billion in the third stimulus bill.
Just from the third round, Tarrant County schools would get $670 million, according to figures calculated by Raise Your Hand Texas. Area districts were allocated nearly $300 million from the second stimulus bill, according to the public education group.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said at a Wednesday State Board of Education meeting that money may soon come to schools. State leaders, he said, are waiting for additional guidance from the federal government before tapping the funds.
“There is some degree of non-clarity as to exactly how much those resources are and when they will be deployed,” Morath said. “I am optimistic that this clarity will be achieved in relatively short order.”
The first stimulus bill, signed last spring by then-President Donald Trump, allocated $1.3 billion to Texas for education — funding that legislators dedicated toward other areas in the state’s budget. Lawmakers cannot repeat that movie with the latest federal dollars.
If lawmakers unlock the latest round of stimulus funds, Fort Worth ISD would be the biggest beneficiary in Tarrant County. Fort Worth ISD could get nearly $283.6 million from the third bill, according to Raise Your Hand. The second stimulus has $126 million for Fort Worth ISD.
|District||1st stimulus bill||2nd stimulus bill||3rd stimulus bill||What districts could receive|
|Fort Worth ISD||$29,311,626||$126,039,992||$283,589,982||$409,629,974|
|Eagle Mountain Saginaw ISD||$1,448,350||$6,227,905||$14,012,786||$20,240,691|
Scribner said having access to those funds would allow Fort Worth ISD to better implement more targeted academic programs; improve special education instruction; social and emotional services; and greater and more equitable access to programs that prepare students for the workforce and college, such as Pathways in Technology Early College High School and early college high schools.
“Areas of great and immediate concern are expanded summer programs to compensate for learning loss due to the pandemic,” the Fort Worth ISD superintendent said. “However, we know that recovering from learning losses will go beyond just focusing on summer programs. We need to implement targeted strategies — and more time on task — for many of our students throughout the school year.”
Keller ISD has identified almost $36 million worth of needs to address the impact the coronavirus crisis has had on the district, Superintendent Rick Westfall said. Among those needs include additional instructional staff, more instructional time, facility improvements and unexpected COVID-19-related expenses, such as personal protective equipment and wireless hotspots.
“Since the identified needs for the district exceeds the $26.3 million from the past two stimulus bills, the district would continue to prioritize the needs and focus on first addressing one-time costs,” Westfall said, adding administrators are working with legislators to free up the money. “Not knowing if and when the funds will be received and what spending guidelines will be attached is leading to more uncertainty as districts continue working to finalize their budgets for 2021-22.”
Those areas that Fort Worth and Keller ISDs want to invest their stimulus money are the exact purpose for these funds, said Matthew Hall, the greater Fort Worth regional advocacy director for Raise Your Hand Texas.
“These stimulus dollars need to remain flexible for schools so they can begin to plan and provide these items,” Hall said.
The Legislature is still attempting to figure out how to use the federal dollars, Hall said. So far, legislators have shown a willingness to bolster public education, he said. Hall wants that effort to continue with the federal dollars.
“We have House Bill 3 fully funded. We’ve got districts’ hold-harmless funding for this semester,” Hall said, referring to lawmakers’ promise to keep supporting the 2019 public education finance overhaul law and to not ding districts’ state funding because of attendance. “We just need to get that third stool leg on there and flow those federal stimulus dollars that districts are owed into public schools. And then we’ll be in a very strong shape to have a really wonderful public education COVID recovery.”