Just weeks away from finalizing the district's 2021-22 budget, district officials are awaiting information from state leaders about nearly $18 billion in federal stimulus funds intended for public schools to use in addressing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
CFISD board member Julie Hinaman called on Gov. Greg Abbott at an April 8 meeting to “do the right thing” by ensuring Texas public schools receive the federal funding set aside for them.
“These are our taxpayer dollars that are supposed to help schools pay for the extensive costs of dealing with the pandemic and to address the learning needs of our kids,” she said. “While the vast majority of other states in the U.S. have already distributed these federal stimulus funds to schools, Texas has not.”
In an April 14 presentation to the State Board of Education, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath promised federal funding is on the way to school districts, but he did not clarify how much districts would receive or when they would receive them.
“The legislative leadership is actually very interested in making sure that all districts are made whole in their COVID expenses,” Morath said.
Funding from the first round of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund designated $1.3 billion for Texas public schools. Instead of this money going directly to school districts, Morath said it was used to fund the hold-harmless guarantee, ensuring districts received funding based on projected enrollment despite attendance declines.
The second and third rounds of ESSER funding, amounting to respectively $5.5 billion and $12.4 billion, has yet to be distributed.
CFISD Chief Financial Officer Karen Smith said the school district has received about $700,000 in additional funds since the start of the pandemic despite applying for more financial assistance.
Nikki Cowart, president of the Cy-Fair American Federation of Teachers, asked the board and district administration to consider employee compensation as officials work to finalize the 2021-22 budget. She said she is concerned the demands of teaching during the pandemic will lead to increased burnout and resignation rates in the coming years.
“One way that we can show our appreciation and respect is by offering a real pay raise, one that is not eaten up by health care premiums,” Cowart said. “As this is budget-finalizing season—and I say this every year, but this year more than ever—we must respect, recognize, reinvest and retain our hardworking current employees.”