Students draw their self-portraits, including their masks, in Ms. Hogan’s kindergarten class on the first day of face-to-face lessons at the Highland Village Elementary.
Photo credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune
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All 13 Texas Democrats in the US House of Representatives, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, signed a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Monday condemning Governor Greg Abbott for failing to provide federal stimulus funding public education.
The letter comes as Abbott and other heads of state halted $ 17.9 billion in additional federal funding from school districts in Texas. The money was provided through several aid packages that Congress passed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Heads of state said part of the raid was a requirement that the state give an additional $ 1 billion Invest in higher education to unlock K-12 funding. State officials also used more than $ 1 billion in federal education funds from last year’s first stimulus package to meet existing budget deficits instead of using that money to supplement the public education budget.
“Governor Abbott is one of only two governors in the Land that receives 100% of the funds approved in the CARES Act for [emergency aid for elementary and secondary schools] and denies Texas schools direct access to US $ 1.2 billion, “wrote the Democrats in their letter to Cardona. “These resources were urgently needed for pandemic-related expenses that arose last school year.” Representatives from Abbott and the Texas Education Agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Over the past few weeks, the governor’s office and TEA have been alerting the state’s efforts to fully fund virtual learning and ensure fully funded budgets for school districts, regardless of a drop in attendance due to the pandemic. An Abbott spokesman also previously said the share of funding for higher education has declined due to the increase in K-12 investments.
While Abbott and other officials claim they will only then pour the federal dollar into schools If they can get more guidance from the federal government on how to use these funds, education advocates argue that about $ 1 billion to fund higher education is a small price to pay for the nearly $ 18 billion in available public school relief to obtain. State officials are calling for a waiver that would allow them to bypass college funding requirements.
School districts across the state continue to compile budgets for the next school year. Through the stimulus funding for education, Congress wanted to address student needs during the pandemic such as mental health resources, counselors and additional staff. Over time, however, schools will run out of time to hire much-needed teachers and staff if they do not have access to more funding.
“These funds should help schools tackle learning losses, mental health problems with the rise in suicide of teens to cope with, tutoring and remedial action, closing the digital divide, improving ventilation and meeting a host of other local needs, “the Democrat stated in the letter. “But due to the ill-intentioned and delayed funding by Governor Abbott, not a single dollar of the previously approved ESSER funding reached schools in Texas.” In the past, TEA has denied claims that there was no federal education funding to schools in Texas Texas went, claiming that over $ 1 billion in education from CARES allowed the state to fund each district according to its pre-pandemic budget.
Laura Yeager, a parent of public school graduates in Texas, founder of the Just Fund It TX education funding initiative, thanked Doggett for the letter and hopes this move will put pressure on Abbott to make releasing federal education funds a top priority.
“[The dollars] are desperately needed and there has been a lot of support from parents, educators, businesses and communities to get those dollars to schools as intended, “Yeager said. “We hope this will move the governor to release funds in schools as soon as possible.”
In addition to Abbott’s position, a debate has arisen between state lawmakers and education officials about who should be empowered to use federal stimulus funds to provide for public schools. Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston and chairman of the House Public Education Committee recently told The Texas Tribune that elected lawmakers have the final say on budgetary measures and the flow of funds. On the flip side, educators and advocates have argued that the money should go directly to individual districts, as Congress originally intended.
“I agree that the legislature should determine the level of investment in our schools – in Austin, the Texas legislature, and Washington, Congress, “Doggett said. “If Congress provides federal funding for local schools, a governor shouldn’t interfere with that legislative purpose. I think the local school trustees are probably in the best position right now to determine how to use these funds as the pandemic is having different effects on our state. “