Stop the Swap: don’t let the state take federal funding intended for schools

RYHT Three Leg Stool Funding
Raise Your Hand Texas Graphic

Texas AFT is calling on state officials and legislators to ensure $12.4 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan stimulus package go where intended: directly to school districts trying to recover from the added costs of the pandemic and prepare for the next school year.

“The pandemic has dealt a huge blow to our school budgets, with massive additional costs that threaten to cut resources needed to keep our kids in safe schools and provide them with the education they deserve,” said Zeph Capo, Texas AFT president. “The 12.4 billion in federal funding needs to be distributed directly to districts to help them recover now and thrive next fall.”

The call to action is needed because Texas chose to supplant the $1.3 billion in Cares Act funding to schools last spring—meaning it used those dollars to plug existing holes in the state budget instead of sending new funding to school districts. State officials are just beginning to work with another $5.5 billion from the second federal stimulus package in December, and we need to ensure that this round of funding remains direct aid to districts as well.

Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT)—a nonprofit public education advocacy group—has produced a series of publications on the need to devote the stimulus money directly to schools, and it has a variety of ways you can share that message on social media. RYHT also has a chart of exactly how much money each district lost with the Cares Act swap to fill budget holes, as well as how much each expects from the new stimulus packages.

RYHT views full recovery for schools as a three-legged stool: maintaining the school finance investment of HB 3 from 2019, keeping the “hold harmless” provision funding districts on projected enrollment instead of attendance, and ensuring the stimulus money flows to our schools. We need a firm commitment from state officials and legislators to keep each leg strong.

“We need to stop the swap and realize that every penny sent to our schools will play a direct role in helping our students, school employees, and families celebrate a full recovery from the pandemic,” Capo said. 

American Rescue Plan also funds COVID-19 testing for schools

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced last week that it will invest $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan to ramp up COVID-19 screening and testing at schools, as well as  $2.25 billion to “scale up testing in underserved populations, and provide new guidance on asymptomatic screening testing in schools, workplaces, and congregate settings.” Texas will receive $803 million for the program.

A Texas Education Agency initiative launched in October has provided some 3.2 million rapid tests to districts throughout the state. The TEA program started with a pilot of about a dozen districts, but hundreds more districts opted into the program in December and January.