Even before the pandemic, Texas schools faced daunting challenges. About 88% of students were economically disadvantaged. Two ethnic groups that comprised about two-thirds of enrollment (and rapidly growing) held less than 8% of the state’s wealth. Many districts had massive infrastructure deficiencies, while others struggled to keep pace with explosive growth. As if that weren’t enough, Texas ranked 41st nationally in spending per student.
Then came COVID! Recent studies estimate the learning loss over the past year to be five to nine months on average, with more than 10% of students completely disengaged. These losses came despite Herculean efforts by districts and heroic professionals throughout the state to respond quickly and to cope with a rapidly unfolding crisis never before imagined.
Overcoming this massive deficit and building the workforce that is absolutely essential to future prosperity and competitiveness requires urgent and immediate action. It also requires money – for extended days and hours, teacher training, technology, broadband, tutoring, outreach, equipment, ventilation, materials, revamping spaces, personnel, interventions, supplemental learning opportunities, and even nutrition for a substantial portion of students and their families (an absolutely essential ingredient for success).
The original CARES Act provided substantial funding to support schools in these efforts. While some of these funds that came to Texas ended up in local districts, the Comptroller has acknowledged that much of the money was used to offset other outlays. In other words, it supplanted, rather than supplemented, existing public school resources.
The two recent stimulus measures both acknowledged the seriousness of the situation and provided extensive payments to aid in restoring the education system. Texas is receiving about $17.9 billion in total, about 90% of which is expected to go to local schools. Many states have already distributed the funds, and institutions around the country are rapidly implementing innovative initiatives to address their unique needs. Flexibility is essential. The federal programs allow the money to be spent over three years, a practical recognition of the effort required to fully address the enormity of the task at hand.
As of the time that I am writing, Texas is well into the biennial budget cycle but has not yet released the funds or even created a mechanism to assure that they will be provided without any diversions. The needs of areas across the vast and diverse expanse that is Texas vary markedly, and districts need the resources expeditiously to sustain the rebuilding and enhancements that must occur.
Texas schools are the lifeblood of our communities and the linchpin to our destiny. They should receive these funds without any unnecessary delays, restrictions, drama, or shenanigans.
Show us the money! The kids of Texas deserve it, and the fortunes of Texas demand it. Stay safe!
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by economist M. Ray Perryman. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Perryman can be reached by email via: [email protected]
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