Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced the approval of Texas’ plan for the remaining $4.1 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (also known as ESSER III) for safely reopening schools and addressing lost classroom time. This follows the release $8.3 billion on March 24 bringing Texas’ ESSER III total to $12.4 billion.
In total, Texas has received $17 billion in ESSER funding across three federal stimulus bills. With the release of these funds, students across the state will have access to extended instructional time, high-dosage tutoring, and other evidence-based strategies to tackle learning loss and address long-existing disparities.
At least 90 percent of the funds must be directly awarded to local education agencies (LEAs) through subgrants which means schools are receiving approximately $11.1 billion total from ESSER III. Schools must use at least 20 percent (~$2.2 billion) to address learning loss including through summer enrichment and after-school programs. LEAs must submit their Use of Funds plans to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by July 27.
The Legislature provided direction through House Bill 1525 to the TEA for the use of remaining state discretionary funds (~$1.3 billion) provided by both ARPA and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA). Developed by TEA, the priorities in the state plan are: 1) addressing lost instructional time as a result of the pandemic through summer, extended learning, and afterschool programs and 2) supporting students’ mental health needs.
Strategies for addressing lost instructional time include:
- Returning to In-Person Learning: In the upcoming school year, Texas schools will be required to offer in-person instruction to all students. LEAs will have access to screening testing and may also choose to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible students and educators as vaccine providers and/or in partnership with local health providers.
- Investing in Summer Learning: LEAs will have the resources for high-dosage tutoring, high-quality instructional materials, and professional development for teachers to help address the academic impact of lost instructional time on K-12 students in the state this summer and next school year. TEA will work with schools to extend the school day and year. TEA will create a diagnostic application process for LEAs to identify which evidence-based interventions are the right fit for its schools.
- Expanding Afterschool Programs: These afterschool programs will be developed in partnership between LEAs 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.
Strategies for supporting mental health needs include:
- Mental Health Focused Professional Development: This training will support educators with implementing evidence-based practices that help students improve their ability to respond to the stresses caused by the pandemic. TEA will also provide information and resources on the impacts of grief and trauma and trauma-informed care, including trauma-informed teacher training modules and supports for teachers.
- Leverage Existing Mental Health Resources: Texas will be providing support and guidance to LEAs on how to maximize existing and newly hired mental health professionals on their campuses, including resources and guidance on screening, and connecting to local or regional mental health resources. TEA will also build out the Safe and Supportive Schools Framework and the supporting diagnostics and accompanying tools to help LEAs assess needs within their schools and identify resources to fill gaps.
- Assessing Student Needs: TEA will encourage LEAs to utilize data they’re already collecting such as the local school climate surveys to evaluate student behavior. TEA is also promoting student mental health screening tools that can be helpful to districts in assessing individual student mental health needs. Additionally, every Texas school is required to convene a behavioral threat assessment team responsible for ensuring that all students who are exhibiting mental health concerns are connected to appropriate mental health resources. TEA will provide guidance on how the data reported by those teams can provide helpful insight into patterns of referral and the needs of students.
This announcement couldn’t be more timely. As this year’s STAAR results confirmed, the pandemic had a substantial impact on student learning. But we have options for addressing it and getting our students back on track. These additional resources will help ensure that students across the state will have access to evidence-based strategies to put them on a path to success.