CARES Act funding for Texas school districts to be used for current district budgets; move makes it clear the additional federal funding will be crucial

The Texas share of the federal CARES Act—which provides a variety of relief packages like unemployment benefits, business loans and grants, and direct aid to states—amounted to about $1.3 billion dollars in grants to relieve financial burdens on Texas school districts from the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Texas Education Agency announced this week that much of that funding will instead be used to meet existing budget expenditures for the coming school year, a move prompted by sharply declining state revenue. In essence, the federal money—to a large degree—will end up supplanting existing district money instead of providing additional funding. The impacts to districts will vary widely, depending on how much money they were entitled to receive and how pandemic expenditures were offset by campus closures. Districts had wide leeway to use the funds for different programs. As a KVUE TV story notes, Austin ISD expected $16 million, while Lago Vista was to receive $127,000. (Federal funding still is available to districts for direct reimbursement for pandemic expenses.)

The change signals how critical it will be for the federal government to step up and pass additional aid to states and local governments—namely the HEROES Act, which would provide significant funding needed for districts to avoid harmful cuts in the coming year.

And while the costs of the initial campus closures are mixed, a new AFT study shows that reopening costs will be overwhelming. As the report states, “The analysis costs out an additional $116.5 billion for instructional staff, distance learning, before and after -school care, transportation, personal protective equipment, cleaning and health supplies, health staffing, custodial and cleaning staff, meeting children’s social and emotional needs, and additional academic support for students. The average school will need to see an extra $1.2 million, or $2,300 per student, to open its doors.”