More than $625 million in federal stimulus funds flowed into Fort Worth-area school districts since 2020 to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than half has been spent, according to a national database from Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab.

The clock is ticking for districts to spend the remaining $275.9 million from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER. School districts and charter schools have until Sept. 30, 2024, to spend the one-time money, or it must be returned.

Texas received a total of $19.2 billion in ESSER funds.

Districts focus on learning loss

ESSER plans

All school districts are required to post their plans for how they plan to use their federal stimulus funding. Here’s your district’s plan:

Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, Fort Worth ISD’s chief financial officer, recently told her school board the district’s ESSER funds should be used by next year’s deadline.

“We are hearing there may be an extension, but we are not relying on that. We are planning to spend all the money,” Arrieta-Candelaria said.

Fort Worth ISD has more than $187 million left to spend. 

Aledo ISD is the only district in Fort Worth that has not spent at least 40% of its funding, according to the Edunomics Lab database.

Aledo ISD, which covers part of far west Fort Worth, spent around 18.8% of its ESSER funding. 

The federal government issued the funding in three rounds. Aledo ISD used all of the $235,781 it received in its first stimulus fund check. However, the database shows the district has barely made a dent in its second and third round of ESSER funds.

In its grant application, Aledo ISD detailed its plans for how it plans to use its remaining stimulus funds on shoring up students’ learning loss. The district’s plans include:

  • Hiring new specialists. 
  • Establishing an after school tutoring program with transportation.
  • Putting in place an enhanced summer school program.
  • Buying a phonics program for kindergarten through second grade.
  • Purchasing a math intervention program.

Most funding spent on payroll

Fort Worth ISD trustee Michael Ryan questioned whether the district hired people for ESSER-funded positions and what happens when the funding is gone.

Mirgitt Crespo, a senior grants and development officer for Fort Worth ISD, confirmed that people were hired with ESSER money. However, she did not see it as a major problem.

“The plan from the beginning was let’s support and let’s sustain and not continue those that we can’t continue with,” Crespo said.

Fort Worth ISD has spent more than $171.4 million of its ESSER funding on payroll costs.

Eleven other area districts also spent most of their federal funds on payroll. Combined, all 12 Fort Worth-area districts used nearly $256.5 million of their COVID-19 relief funds on personnel.

For every dollar districts spent, almost 75 cents were for payroll.

Tough financial reality setting in

In the next year, all school districts will have to decide which ESSER-funded programs to cut and keep. For those that stay, school districts have to figure out how to fund them.

Fort Worth ISD is currently going through that process. At the same time, though, the district is dealing with a tight financial situation because of declining enrollment. 

The loss of stimulus funds is expected to hit Texas and 14 other states hard.

That reality wasn’t lost on Fort Worth ISD trustee Anael Luebanos. 

He added up the annual cost of several ESSER-funded programs, such as Saturday school, high-impact tutoring and parent engagement specialists. 

The total was $63 million. That’s money the district doesn’t always have — and would have to make up the difference after 2024.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob SanchezEnterprise Reporter

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University....