June 7, 2021: TEA releases remaining federal relief dollars to school districts … with a catch


 

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 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.

 

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2020-2021 high school seniors eligible for graduation by committee decision

Students take paper exams at their desks. Photo is taken from above in a classroom, where th eTexas state flag is visible.

Credit: Dallas Morning News

This year’s seniors who have not passed all of their end-of-course STAAR exams are eligible to graduate via an Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) decision, thanks to the passage of House Bill 999 (Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, sponsored by Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio)

Passed by the Legislature in its final full week, HB 999 went into effect May 31, making this alternate path to graduation immediate for 2020-2021 seniors who have struggled through a stressful academic year in a pandemic. The Texas Education Agency released new guidance Wednesday for districts on implementing these changes.
An IGC committee is not required to consider a student’s end-of-course exam performance in its decision-making, but a student must meet all other IGC requirements to be eligible to graduate by committee decision. To see those additional requirements and the full IGC process, refer to TEA’s online FAQs.
In order for a student to be included in graduation data for the school year, an IGC must decide to award a diploma by Aug. 31, but a committee still can award diplomas to students after that date.

 


TRS Board Discusses Premium Raises, New Rules from the Legislature

This table with T-R-S ActiveCare rate changes can be found on the webpage linked below.The Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ Board of Trustees held a special meeting this past Thursday to address several statutory changes resulting from legislation passed during the 87th session. The board also announced now customary bad news: Premiums from the upcoming year are expected to rise.

Of the changes introduced by the Legislature, the most notable are the creation of a TRS ombuds role and new rules regarding districts of innovation (DOIs).

As a provision of HB 1585, the TRS board was tasked with appointing a new ombuds who would monitor TRS’ interactions with members and respond to members’ complaints. The board voted unanimously to appoint the current secretary of the TRS board, Katherine Farrell, as the interim ombuds. During this period, Farrell will fulfill her duties as the secretary as well as those of the ombuds. The TRS board plans to amend its bylaws to account for the ombuds at its July meeting to make way for hiring a permanent ombuds at its September meeting.

Some DOIs have opted out of TRS Active Care in order to offer competing healthcare plans. SB 1444, which has been sent to the governor’s desk, limits a DOI’s ability to do this going forward. No new districts of innovation will be allowed to opt out of TRS Active Care starting next year. The legislation also mandates that all districts maintain their status as either “opted out” or “opted in” to TRS Care for the next five years.

Along with addressing these changes, TRS announced the TRS Active Care rates and benefits changes for the fiscal year beginning this September. TRS estimates the average total premiums would be 6.2% higher than those of the previous year. You can find a full rundown of the projected TRS Active Care rates and benefits on the TRS website.

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Multiple special sessions looming? Maybe.


Texas state Capitol building with trees lining the walkwayGov. Greg Abbott said Thursday he might call two special legislative sessions later this year: one in the fall on redistricting and federal COVID-19 funds and one this summer focused on voter suppression bill SB 7, a bail reform bill, and potentially other issues.

Texas House Democrats staged a walkout that killed SB 7, a GOP priority bill that restricts voting, at the end of the regular session. In the ensuing week, Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dade Phelan have diverged on a path forward for the voting bill, along with other potential topics for a special session agenda.
The version of SB 7 killed during the regular session was voter suppression legislation that would have created new limitations to early voting hours, placed restrictions on voting-by-mail, and ended drive-thru voting. The bill also included a provision that would have allowed judges to overturn elections over suspected fraud.
Abbott, Patrick, and Phelan have disagreed too on where to place the blame for failing to pass GOP priorities in the regular session. In a further complication, just before the Legislature gaveled out last Monday, Abbott said he planned to veto a section of the state budget that funds the Legislature.

Local leader spotlight: Jackie Anderson, President of Houston Federation of Teachers

Jackie Anderson in a red H-F-T T-shirt, smiling from a seat on a charter bus.In December, the Houston Federation of Teachers won a significant victory on behalf of its members in Houston ISD. The local union, along with Houston Educational Support Personnel (HESP), won elected consultation after trying to have a bigger voice in district decision-making for years.

“That’s the wonderful thing,” said Jackie Anderson, who was recently elected president of HFT. “They don’t make major decisions without consulting us first, and that is very important — that collaboration that we have with them.”
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Member’s daughter earns free degree with union benefit

Christine Jones found the traditional pathway to college difficult between the lack of financial aid and the struggle of balancing a commute while working full-time.
Things changed when her mother, a long-time special education teacher and Northeast Houston AFT member, introduced her to a union membership benefit that would pay for all the remaining expenses for her degree.
As part of her AFT membership, Christine’s mother Marsha had access to the Union Plus Free College Benefit, which allows union families to pursue higher education without piling on thousands of dollars of debt.
“You need that education to better yourself, and if the costs are covered, it helps out a lot,” Christine said. “Right now, in this day and age, I felt this was perfect for me and my situation.”
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Know Your Rights as an Educator: Resignation & Contract Abandonment

Text says, "Know Your Rights: Resignation and Contract Abandonment"With summer here, we know many educators and school employees are evaluating their current job situations. If you’re looking to switch districts or careers altogether, keep in mind the terms of your contract.

Our Know Your Rights guide has the information you need to avoid the consequences of “contract abandonment” if you choose to resign your current position.

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Events

Text says, "A-F-T Teach 2021 Virtual Conference, July 6-10, 2021. Register now."
AFT’s next biennial professional learning conference, TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children), will be held virtually July 6-10, 2021.

TEACH 2021 will feature:

  • Inspiring speakers on key issues, like rebuilding academically from the pandemic and creating anti-racist communities
  • Engaging cross-curricular sessions with meaningful tools and resources to use in your school
  • Solutions to ensure students’ social emotional learning and the freedom to thrive
  • Opportunities to collaborate with colleagues

Register now! You can also join the TEACH 2021 community on Share My Lesson to review conference content from 2019, find related resources, and join the discussion about what you hope to see at TEACH 2021.

 

Text says, "Vision. Strategy. Power. Virtual Convention, June 25-26." Brightly colored lines stem from the Texas A-F-T logo.Texas AFT will hold its biennial convention virtually on June 25-26. The Texas AFT Convention is the highest governing body of our state union. Delegates have the power to set the general policies of the organization by adopting convention resolutions, amending the constitution and by-laws, and electing the Texas AFT president and secretary-treasurer.

Those interested in being delegates for local unions should contact your union directly for more information. Guests also are welcome to register for and attend the convention. See our Convention 2021 page for more information. Deadline to register is June 15.


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