NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - For many families, those federal stimulus dollars have already been spent, but Texas schools are still waiting for their share of some $18 billion in federal aid now caught up in budget wrangling in Austin.
"I can't see what the problem is. Over 40 states have already figured out how to get this funding to our school children," says Denton ISD Supt. Jamie Wilson.
Wilson says his district is estimated to receive some $30 million in federal support and he's already got plans for it.
"We'll address unfinished learning with high dosage tutoring, with lessened class sizes, with high groups of tutoring that can happen with our retired teachers, and then we may even be able to put in some safeguards for air quality with our buildings as well with one-time designated funds so that our facilities can become that much safer for our students in the future."
Supt. Wilson joined a group of educators and community stakeholders at a Grapevine event today organized by 'Raise Your Hand Texas'.
The advocacy group has been rallying communities to pressure their elected representatives to release the federal stimulus funds, using a three-legged stool as a prop to show that every piece of funding is essential for school recovery.
The three legs: increased funding found in HB 3 passed in 2019, hold harmless, which means districts won't be financially penalized for Covid-19's enrollment impact, and then there's the stimulus funds.
"They did make sure that we were held harmless, and they have done some good things with regard to that," says Supt. Wilson, "but these dollars for SR2 and SR3 are above and beyond current allocations... these are above and beyond what our local taxpayers are contributing to our schools in our areas, and this is what it's going to take to address the unfinished learning."
Other advocates agree, urging lawmakers to act.
"Thankfully, many school districts have a plan to help students, but action requires funding outside of their normal budgets," says Suzi Kennon, President of Texas PTA. "We're talking millions to tens of millions of extra dollars per school district. These are unforeseen expenses that are essential for recovery. If nothing is done this year, any chance of recovery will be swallowed up whole. We must act now."
Alexis Miller, a 3rd grade teacher at Southridge Elementary in Lewisville, says students of all incomes and abilities have struggled.
"You hear that a lot-- 'our most vulnerable students' need this- but what we've learned about this pandemic is that it did not discriminate, right?" Miller, Lewisville's 2020 Teacher of the Year, adding her voice to those urging lawmakers to fund the much-needed recovery, with resources.
"It's beyond ' we don't have enough pencils for the classroom', we are talking--we need more mental health advocates," says Miller, "we need more social workers, we need more counselors."
Lauren Abell is a Colleyville Heritage Junior. She agrees that the emotional toll is real.
"It can be scary for people to unmute and ask questions, and to turn your cameras on," says Abell. "It causes a lot of anxiety and I think also not being in the same room with students, talking with each other about how your day's going, making jokes about things happening can cause a lot of students to feel very lonely, which can lead to depression."
Ultimately, educators say, with Covid impacting every aspect of schooling-- recovery must happen now.
"We have no time to waste," says Miller, "there is a sense of urgency."
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