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The U.S Department of Education approves Texas’ American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Relief Plans (APR ESSER), giving them the green light for the distribution of the remaining $4.1 billion in funding.

The funds will be used to address the needs of students, reopen and sustain safe school operations and equitably expand opportunities for students disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year the department distributed two-thirds of the ARP ESSER funds totaling $81 billion to 50 states and the District of Colombia. The final one-third of the funding is released to states once their plans detailing how they were using and plan to use the funds were approved.

Texas has received more than $12 billion in total of ARP ESSER funds and with this current approval, their plan will result in the release of the final $4.1 billion.

The top priorities of Texas’ plan include addressing the academic impact of lost instructional time for Texas students and plans to offer high-dosage tutoring, high-quality instructional materials and job-embedded professional learning to help address the academic impact of lost instructional time.

In Houston, failing grades have become a clear sign of how the pandemic has impacted students’ education. In June, HISD confirmed that the upcoming school year will be taught 100% in person due to the significant decline in grades of the students who participated in remote learning compared to those who learned in person.

The return to in-person learning for many families won’t be a seamless transition. Many families are still concerned about the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color, and the risk to further expose their communities or children to the virus.

According to a report from the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) Department of Grant Compliance and Administration, HISD will receive nearly $2.1 billion of the remaining one-third of the state’s APR ESSER funds. In total, HISD has been approved for an estimated $8.4 billion, with nearly $5.3 billion previously received in the first round in March.

In a news release, Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education says “The approval of these plans enables states to receive vital, additional American Rescue Plan funds to quickly and safely reopen schools for full-time, in-person learning; meet students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs; and address disparities in access to educational opportunity that were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Highlights of the Texas plan includes the following:

Returning to in-person learning in 2021, safely reopening schools and sustaining safe operations: In the upcoming school year, Texas schools will be required to offer in-person instruction to all students. All local educational agencies will have access to screening testing. The agencies may also choose to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible students and educators as a vaccine provider and/or in partnership with local health providers.

Investing in summer learning and addressing the academic impact of lost instructional time: The Texas Education Agency plans to use funds to invest in summer learning programs for students and will use design-thinking based processes to extend the school day and year. Plans will also offer high-dosage tutoring, high-quality instructional materials, and job-embedded professional learning to help address the academic impact of lost instructional time. TEA will create a diagnostic application process for local education agencies to identify which evidence-based interventions are the right fit for its schools.

Expanding afterschool programs: TEA plans to use funds to provide evidence-based comprehensive afterschool programs to students. The programs will be developed in partnership between local education agencies and community organizations and will involve high-dosage tutoring and job-embedded professional learning. TEA will also encourage campuses to engage local stakeholders and make formal partnerships with providers of high-quality, out-of-school time programs to expand the reach of afterschool programs for more students with the support of the funds.

Laura Onyeneho

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...