The Dallas Morning News

School funding

Letter asks state leaders to release $18B in federal aid

- By EMILY DONALDSON Staff Writer Twitter: @emilyjdona­ldson

Business leaders are pressuring the state to clarify when nearly $18 billion will flow to schools.

Business leaders from Longview to Dallas to Corpus Christi are pressuring the state to clarify when nearly $18 billion will flow to schools.

The federal government allocated the money to Texas to support students’ recovery from the pandemic. Even as the majority of other states have started the process to send their federal dollars to schools, Texas hasn’t made any moves to do the same.

“As soon as possible, we ask leadership and the legislatur­e to clarify when and how much federal funding will be made available to Texas’ education institutio­ns,” 27 chambers of commerce and business groups wrote in a joint letter dated Wednesday to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan.

The impact of COVID-19 on learning threatens the state’s ability to “maintain the significan­t momentum we have built to leverage talent,” the groups noted in the letter. If the federal funding is invested wisely, “these funds will ensure the pandemic does not result in a generation­al educationa­l crisis for Texas students.”

Those applying pressure include various groups from the Dallas-fort Worth area. One of the signees, the Dallas Regional Chamber, supports the DMN Education Lab.

Planning needs

Schools need more informatio­n on the funding and guidance on how the money can be used, the chambers wrote. Educators want to implement interventi­ons that tackle learning loss, extend instructio­nal time and hire additional staff but need the additional funds to do so, the groups wrote.

Schools are in the midst of planning next school years’ budget and need guidance on how much money will be available, the groups wrote.

“Time is of the essence,” they said.

Several other organizati­ons including the Texas Federation for Children, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Families Empowered had their own request related to the federal funds.

The organizati­ons wrote to Abbott on Thursday asking that the state use some of the money to sustain a program that awards $1,500 grants to families who have children with special needs. The state has approved about 7,000 such grants — which must be used to purchase services for additional support — while almost 12,000 students have applied for the help.

Lawmakers say they are waiting on guidance from the federal government before drawing down money. A provision that requires the state to maintain the same amount of education funding in proportion to the overall budget as it did pre-pandemic is causing confusion for them.

Abbott sought a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on this provision in February, but the state hasn’t received any additional answers on the matter, Texas Education Commission­er Mike Morath said Wednesday.

However, Morath hinted that an answer may be coming soon. Without specifying how much money would be sent to schools or when those funds would flow, Morath said he felt clarity would be achieved “in relatively short order.”

The state already received about $1.3 billion in federal education funding last spring but schools realized few additional dollars. Texas passed the funds along to schools but cut state support accordingl­y, using the money to supplant its funding commitment.

‘Bad sequel’

Congressma­n Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat who represents a district that stretches from San Antonio to Austin, called the delay in distributi­ng federal funds a “bad sequel” to a similar move made by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2009.

In 2010, Doggett successful­ly passed an amendment to federal legislatio­n that mandated Texas use federal education stimulus dollars to supplement school budgets. That amendment was repealed in 2011.

“Federal pandemic relief is intended to supplement resources for our schools, not simply to enrich the state coffers,” Doggett said. “We must overcome the phony excuses. Stop the swap of state funds for federal funds — stop the swap of education dollars for noneducati­onal use.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversati­on about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, The Communitie­s Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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