TEA releases remaining federal relief dollars to school districts — with a catch
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.
2020-2021 high school seniors eligible for graduation by committee decision
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)
TRS Board Discusses Premium Raises, New Rules from the Legislature
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.
Multiple special sessions looming? Maybe.
Gov. 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.
Local leader spotlight: Jackie Anderson, President of Houston Federation of Teachers
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.
- Read more from Jackie on that recent win, along with her own “late bloomer” journey to union leadership.
Member’s daughter earns free degree with union benefit
Know Your Rights as an Educator: Resignation & 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.
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.
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.