Congressional Democrats condemn Abbott for not releasing billions in federal stimulus dollars intended for Texas public schools

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All 13 Texas Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, signed a letter on Monday to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona condemning Gov. Greg Abbott’s for not releasing federal stimulus funding intended for public education.

The letter comes as Abbott and other state leaders have held up the disbursement of $17.9 billion of additional federal funding intended for Texas school districts. The money was allocated through multiple aid packages passed by Congress over the past year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State leaders have said part of the hold up is a requirement that the state has to invest an extra $1 billion in higher education in order to unlock the K-12 funding. State officials also used more than $1 billion in federal education funding from the first stimulus package last year to make up existing budget shortfalls, rather than using that money to supplement the public education budget.

“Governor Abbott is one of only two governors in the country to grab 100% of the [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief] funds approved in the CARES Act, denying Texas schools direct access to $1.2 billion,” Congressional Democrats wrote in their letter to Cardona. “These resources were desperately needed for pandemic-related expenses incurred during the last school year.”

Representatives for Abbott and the Texas Education Agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In recent weeks, the governor’s office and TEA have pointed to the state’s efforts to fully fund virtual learning and guarantee fully funded budgets for school districts regardless of reductions in attendance because of the pandemic. A spokesperson for Abbott also previously said that the proportion of funding going to higher education has decreased because of increases in K-12 investments.

While Abbott and other officials claim that they cannot start flowing the federal dollars to schools until they receive further guidance on the use of these funds from the federal government, education advocates argue that about $1 billion in funding for higher education is a small price to pay to receive the nearly $18 billion in available relief for public schools. State officials are asking for a waiver that would allow them to bypass the higher education funding requirement.

School districts across the state are continuing to put together budgets for the next academic year. Through stimulus funding for education, Congress intended to address student needs during the pandemic like mental health resources, counselors and additional staff members. But as time goes on, schools will run out of time to hire much-needed teachers and staffers if they can’t access more funding.

“These funds were intended to help schools address learning loss, meet mental health challenges with the increase of youth suicide, provide tutoring and remedial assistance, close the digital divide, improve ventilation and a host of other locally determined needs,” the letter from the Democrats stated. “But due to bad faith denial and delay of these funds by Governor Abbott, not a single dollar of the already-approved ESSER funds have reached Texas schools.”