Board Resolution Asks TEA to Release Funds Meant For Districts

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees passed a resolution tonight requesting that state officials release federal funds designed to support students and districts during the pandemic.

At stake for the district is an estimated $241 million in one-time funding, meant to help make districts whole as they’ve navigated the demands and changing needs of students and staff during COVID-19.

In total, Texas has received $19 billion meant for local school districts. Thus far, AISD has received just $17 million, but not the way it was meant to be shared, said Interim Chief Financial Officer George Gogonas.

“Basically, TEA reduced the amount of state and local funding to districts by a very similar amount and then gave us this in federal funding,” Gogonas said. “So instead of supplementing it, they supplanted.”

By effectively swapping federal funds for state ones, TEA is essentially shorting districts out of state funds.

“Tonight’s resolution is meant to encourage the state to pass along ESSER funding to districts, and not to increase restrictions or use it to balance state budgets,” said Jacob Reach, chief of intergovernmental relations and board services.

Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, funds have been approved as part of three separate pieces of legislation. Each includes different restrictions and different timelines for distribution. ESSER I and II funds, approved under the Trump administration, have a one-year deadline; ESSER III monies, approved under President Biden, have a 60-day deadline for distribution.

“With a tight budget, we could reimburse ourselves for pandemic-related expenses that we’ve already incurred,” Gogonas said.

Some of those expenses include purchases of PPE, distance learning software, and Chromebooks and iPads, thousands of which had to be acquired immediately as districts nationwide shut down and moved to remote learning in March 2020.

Tonight’s resolution is directed at Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Legislature and TEA, and recommends that they “ensure all supplemental funds allocated from the federal government flow directly to local education agencies without additional restrictions beyond what the federal government has stipulated.”

Though federal funds are not part of the budget that trustees approve each year in June, Gogonas said the sheer amount of money the district is estimated to receive makes planning difficult.

“The sooner we can get the money in and know what the restrictions are, the better we can prepare,” he said.