On April 28, 2021, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that Texas school districts and charter schools may apply to receive their allotment of the $11.2 billion dollars in pandemic relief funds. These federal funds were appropriated to the State of Texas for public education purposes by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP or ARPA) through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III (ESSER III) Fund. Schools should use these new funds to respond to the pandemic and address student learning loss that has occurred due to COVID-19. Applications for these grants are available now on the TEA Grant Opportunities web page.
The US Department of Education’s grant makes two-thirds of these funds available immediately through ESSER III, with the remaining third being released contingent upon the USDE’s approval of the state plan. Details about the state plan will be released at a later date. Most school systems are eligible to receive funds under the required federal funding formulas, but not all will qualify. Specific allocations by school system can be found here.
The TEA also published guidance and frequently asked questions about these funds, the approved uses and guidance regarding local compliance requirements under federal rules. These resources are available here and on the TEA Coronavirus webpage at https://tea.texas.gov/coronavirus. The document is divided into several categories including grant requirements, eligibility, and allowable uses.
School systems are strongly encouraged to develop a plan to use these one-time federal funds expeditiously over the covered period. Additionally, if federal relief funds can be used to pay for an allowable activity that was previously paid for by local funds, then the federal funds can be used to pay for it going forward. This allows the school system to repurpose any unspent local funds to extend the support for students into future years. The TEA advises school systems with large ESSER III allocations to use this long-term approach to avoid local funding shortfalls when federal funds expire in September 2024.
These announcements follow USDE guidance related to maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements. Federal coronavirus relief laws require states to maintain K-12 and higher education spending at the same proportion of total state spending in 2022-23 as they did in 2017-2019. However, Texas added roughly $5 billion to K-12 spending in 2019 through HB 3 while higher education spending was increased much less dramatically, thus skewing the proportions of total state spending.
This appears to put Texas in a unique situation, with higher education proportionality impacted primarily by a massive increase in K-12 spending. The USDE has stated a waiver of this requirement cannot be obtained in the time required to write the state budget. This leaves leadership with significant appropriations questions that must be resolved to ensure the state prevents a situation where a school system is required to return portions of the federal funds to the USDE.
The Texas Legislature is also considering several other factors at play including the consideration of several statutory changes that may have possible appropriations implications. Some MOE requirements for these federal relief funds are impacted by parts of the state budget unrelated to elementary, secondary, or post-secondary education. State legislative leadership has committed to resolving these questions to ensure all school systems will have funding available for COVID-19 expenses and any other public education funding proposal approved by the Legislature.
For support or additional information, please contact the Department of Grant Compliance and Administration at GrantSupport@tea.texas.gov.
This post is a summary of this document released by the TEA.