Proposals impacting the timing and method of distributing stimulus funds are still being debated.
We are almost to the finish line on the discussion of federal stimulus funding for education. But while districts now have assurances from our state leaders that most of the federal stimulus dollars will be distributed, significant questions remain.
State leaders have committed to flowing $12.4 billion in stimulus funding from round three to districts but have yet to resolve questions about how the $5.5 billion from round two will be dispersed. Our schools still do not know how much they will receive or when it will be made available.
With days left in the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers are also still debating whether to implement additional state guidelines for federal stimulus funding for our schools, even for round three, which has already been allocated. The concern is these new state guidelines may be more prescriptive than the existing federal guidelines. New legislation (Senate Committee Substitute for HB 1525) would control how long districts have to spend these dollars. Proposals are also being considered that would supplant some of the $5.5 billion, which may impact the final funding received.
In addition, there are questions on how the Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner can use the 10 percent of federal stimulus funds the agency is able to reserve — over $1.8 billion. Several bills (HB 4545 and SB 2094) direct the Commissioner to create specific statewide grants and programs with this funding. While there is nothing in the federal guidelines preventing state legislation on the use of these funds, it is not technically needed.
Raise Your Hand Texas has consistently asked lawmakers to do four things with the federal stimulus dollars:
- Keep education stimulus dollars in education. This includes flowing the $12.4 million in round three stimulus funding and the $5.5 billion awarded in round two. Congress intended these funds for local public schools.
- Keep these dollars flexible. The amount of funding that is going to each district varies widely. Our educators know best where learning loss occurred and how it can be addressed. Let’s trust them and our local district leaders to decide where our federal stimulus funding should be spent and not place additional restrictions on the money.
- Ensure federal funds are sent to districts in a timely manner. There is no need for the state to complicate or delay the stimulus relief dollars for our local schools. The TEA does not need legislation to allocate its state agency-level funding to school districts or create statewide grant programs. Districts already have the ability to extend the expenditure of this funding for up to four years if needed.
- Ensure federal stimulus dollars are not spent on unproven programs. State stimulus dollars should not be used to fund voucher programs. They should also not be used on other unproven programs like outcomes-based funding. If the Legislature is going to provide additional guidance to TEA regarding the use of these funds, it will need to act before the end of this legislative session.