Statement on CDC distancing update and stimulus money for Texas schools

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 19, 2021
CONTACT: Rob D’Amico, 512-627-1343, rdamico@texasaft.org

As CDC updates guidelines on distancing, Texas AFT stresses the importance of keeping stimulus money flowing directly to school recovery and future safety

New money for testing also will ensure we equip for safe openings in the fall

Texas AFT President Zeph Capo commented today on updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the $12.4 billion in federal aid to Texas schools from the American Rescue Plan, and the $803 million in the act’s funding for rapid testing on Texas campuses:

The CDC update noting 3 feet of distancing is acceptable in some school situations is a worrisome distraction. We already have many classrooms with less than 6 feet of distancing in Texas, since the state guidelines were to use 6 feet when “feasible.” 

We need to concentrate on ways for our state and districts to make it truly safe to send kids and teachers into a school—lifting mask requirements and trying to squeeze more kids in a class is not going to do that. We need to continue to emphasize masks, as much distancing as possible, increased COVID-19 testing, air quality enhancements, and getting all school employees vaccinated by the end of March. All of these measures require money, which is why we need to stop the state from using federal aid for schools on other budget items. 

The pandemic has put enormous holes in our local school budgets, with additional costs that threaten to cut resources needed to keep our kids in safe schools and provide them with the education they deserve.

Texas chose to supplant the $1.3 billion in Cares Act funding to schools last spring, using those dollars to plug existing holes in the state budget instead of sending new funding to school districts in dire need of assistance. The swap in dollars was a devastating blow, but the new stimulus package is an incredible opportunity to ensure we send direct aid to our schools. Another $5.5 billion to Texas schools from the second round of stimulus aid also is in danger of being supplanted for other purposes. If our state leaders do the right thing, these packages will infuse $17.9 billion into our public education system to spur a full recovery and forge a safe path forward. 

We need to stop any attempt to swap money into budget holes 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.

[Regarding the funding for COVID-19 testing] We’ve always pushed for more COVID-19 testing in schools and were happy when our state initiated a rapid-testing program in October. The new federal funding will ensure we can have robust testing programs statewide to keep our campuses safer.

Texas American Federation of Teachers represents some 66,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.7-million-member American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO.
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