TEA releases remaining federal relief dollars to school districts — with a catch

Text says, "COVID-19 relief funding intended for Texas schools needs to go to Texas schools."

After months of urging by our union and Texas education organizations, the Texas Education Agency announced Thursday that districts could begin applying for their shares of the remaining federal COVID-19 relief owed to Texas schools. 

This $5.5 billion is from the second of three federal aid packages. Its release comes roughly a month after Gov. Greg Abbott announced Texas schools could apply for their allotments of $11.2 billion from the third round of federal relief, passed as part of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021. (A little over $1 billion in additional funds from this third package is set to be released to districts upon federal approval of a statewide spending plan, as developed by TEA.)

While districts can begin to claim their shares of the $5.5 billion, how much they’ll actually receive in extra funding depends on their enrollment numbers. TEA is using this round of funding to reimburse itself for the cost of the “hold harmless” funding provision it granted to districts struggling with pandemic-altered attendance this year. So any extra relief districts get from these federal dollars may be smaller than previously expected. 

We’ve seen this act before. As you’ll recall, the first federal aid package from spring 2020 included $1.3 billion intended for Texas schools. The state, however, swapped those dollars for planned public education funding, so districts saw no extra relief. Given that the state is supplanting funding once again with this $5.5 billion aid package, it’s clear that advocacy from our members and other Texas public education allies is still needed to ensure districts receive the full benefit of the funding provided by the American Rescue Plan. 

When districts receive their remaining funding, what can these dollars be used for? In its announcement about the distribution of the $5.5 billion, TEA said, “school systems should use these new funds for allowable activities to respond to the pandemic and to address student learning loss as a result of COVID-19.” An accompanying guide from the U.S. Department of Education notes a wide array of potential acceptable uses, including implementing safety protocols and procedures and providing services for low-income students and students with disabilities. 

As noted in that guidance from the Department of Education, the funding also can be used to hire new staff or provide pay raises or additional compensation to teachers and school employees (see Page 46). 

You can see what your school district can expect to receive from each round of federal funding on TEA’s website.