Houston ISD to receive $536M in federal funds in first allotment of COVID-19 relief money
Houston ISD is slated to receive just over $536 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education as a part of a larger program to help public and charter schools across the U.S. recover from student learning losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. (Community Impact staff)
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the release of $11.2 billion in federal funding April 28, and districts have access to about two-thirds of that funding currently. The remaining one-third is expected to be released later this spring, according to the Texas Education Agency, after the state gets federal approval. In total, HISD is slated to receive about $804 million, which represents about 40% of its operating budget for the 2020-21 school year.
The initial allocation was opened up to districts April 29 for grant applications, according to the TEA.
In a statement from the HISD press office, officials commended Abbott for releasing the funds.
"The allocation of more than $800 million in federal dollars to HISD shows their commitment to helping us recover, and we are grateful for the funding," officials said in a statement. "This will give district administrators and the HISD board of trustees an opportunity to build a robust budget for the upcoming school year that will address our priorities."
HISD took a "cautious approach" to budgeting for the 2020-21 school year during conversations that took place last June in what officials tied to the uncertainty of how the coronavirus pandemic could affect revenue in the following year.
According to a press release from Abbott's office, the state will support school districts as issues surrounding the remaining funds are worked out.
"That includes holding the districts harmless for decreases in enrollment, funding learning devices through Operation Connectivity and reimbursing school districts for their COVID-19-related costs during the spring 2020 semester," according to the release.
TEA officials confirmed the $11.2 billion in federal funding would not be used to replace state funding for public schools in the state's biannual budget, news that was heralded by the Association of Texas Professional Educators, a group representing around 100,000 educators across the state.
In a statement, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes stressed the importance of giving districts local control on how to spend the relief dollars. She also urged transparency about the status of the remaining funds.
"School districts need to know they can confidently apply for grant funding without fear of being asked to refund the money later," she said. "It is of vital importance that lawmakers take every action while the Legislature is in session to draw down the full amount of available funding set aside by Congress."
Several charter schools in the area have also been allocated relief funds, according to TEA data. Houston Heights High School in the Heights will receive about $655,000, and A+ Unlimited Potential in the Museum District will receive about $449,000.