Making the announcement along with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan, Abbott said the funds will be applied over the next three years under grants overseen by the Texas Education Agency. Beyond that, there’s still another $7 billion in federal stimulus money, with still no word from the state about how that will be applied.
The stimulus money is designed to help schools across Texas with all the students who haven’t doing well in the pandemic-inspired conditions which for many meant online classes, social isolation and a loss of the usual rites of passage like graduation ceremonies. And then there’s a whole other group of students who simply opted out from school entirely.
Several education groups had been critical of the delay in passing on the funds, saying they needed the money now to help shore up their operations after unanticipated budget expenditures because of COVID-19. The Texas State Teachers Association, commenting after the Texas Senate presented its first budget proposal which didn’t include any of the federal funding, earlier released a statement from TSTA President Ovidia Molina saying the federal money was not intended to replace state money and it should not remain unspent while districts throughout the state struggle to meet their students’ needs.
A sliding scale determines the amount of disbursement to every district. That means that a district like Houston ISD receives more money – it will receive about $800 million — than districts with a lower percentage of low-income families.
In response to the state’s announcement, the HISD press office released a statement saying: “When we prioritize education funding, we make a statement that we are investing in our children, our communities, and our economic future. The Houston Independent School District commends Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker Dade Phelan for recognizing the hardships and loss of learning that our students and staff have faced during this pandemic. The allocation of more than $800 million in federal dollars to HISD shows their commitment to helping us recover, and we are grateful for the funding. This will give district administrators and the HISD Board of Trustees an opportunity to build a robust budget for the upcoming school year that will address our priorities.”
In a statement released by Abbott, even as he announced these and other funds coming from the federal government, he complained about “The complicated nature of the federal maintenance of effort requirements.” At another point, speaking about the $5 billion the state earlier received from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation (CRRSA) Act, he noted that this and other legislation passed by Congress “came with significant strings attached.”
Clearly, at least in response to a Democratic president, Republican Abbott does not abide by the axiom “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
In the same press release, Abbott touted the state’s own work to increase education funding which during the 2019-20 school year rose by more than $5 billion from the year before.