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Austin City Council urges State leaders to release withheld federal funding to local school districts

Three rounds of federal stimulus funding totaling over $19 billion have been allocated for Texas K-12 schools. The State is still holding on to $17.9 billion.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council has unanimously passed a resolution asking the Texas Education Agency, the Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott to release currently withheld federal funding intended for public schools and provide the expected amount of State funding to local school districts.

Councilmember Alison Alter said Texas is one of two states that has not given dedicated federal stimulus funding to its schools. To date, three rounds of federal stimulus funding totaling over $19 billion have been allocated for Texas K-12 schools.

During the first round of funding, State leaders released $1.3 billion in federal money to Texas schools, but withheld an equivalent amount of State money, leaving public schools with few additional resources to pay for the costs of the pandemic. Advocacy groups are worried the State will do the same with the remaining $17.9 billion.

To unlock federal funds from the third stimulus, Texas has to invest over $1 billion of the State’s money into higher education. But according to The Texas Tribune, the State has applied for a waiver to avoid sending that money to higher education, causing major delays.

A spokesperson for Abbott told The Texas Tribune that State leaders are waiting for more federal guidance before providing funding to school districts. However, the waiver only applies to the third stimulus package, and Texas can access $5.5 billion for education from the second stimulus bill at any time.

“Our public schools are key to the future of our state and our nation, and our kids deserve better from state leaders,” said Alter, who is also a co-founder of Just Fund It TX, a local advocacy group fighting to improve funding for Texas public schools. “So long as State leaders withhold billions of dollars from our children, both our kids and our economy will suffer.”

Austin ISD stands to receive around $240 million in federal funding should the money be released, while schools in the Central Texas area can expect more than $500 million.

“Gov. Abbott is playing politics with our children, our teachers and our schools,” said Laura Yeager, co-founder and director of Just Fund It TX. “More than 60% of Texas students are considered economically disadvantaged and have great needs which have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is urgent that the remaining $17.9 billion in federal funding be sent to school districts immediately.”

Local school districts have indicated they will put the federal money toward after-school programs, mental health support for students and staff, learning loss and support for students, school nurses, technology and improved safety and ventilation at schools.

But State lawmakers want the Legislature, rather than local school districts, to decide what to do with the federal funding, The Texas Tribune reports.

“These funds are an essential part of our community's recovery,” said Lynn Boswell, Austin ISD trustee. “Districts know what our needs are, and we know how to use these funds well. But we can't do that until we know these funds are coming to our districts as Congress intended.”

The full Austin City Council resolution can be found below:

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