TEXAS CITY

Months after receiving federal funding to lessen the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on schools, districts around the county have begun to cash in.

The money is part of $122.7 billion provided by the federal government under the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress in March. It’s the third round of federal assistance schools have received since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It will be a huge benefit,” Texas City Independent School District Superintendent Melissa Duarte said. “We’ve just started spending the funds — we’re only probably a month in — so we won’t see the effects until two or three years down the road.”

Texas received nearly $12.5 billion in funding. Districts in Galveston County received almost $103 million of that, with funds ranging from $186,300 at High Island Independent School District to $36.5 million at Clear Creek Independent School District, according the Texas Education Agency.

The money will be spent in a variety of ways, including hiring interventionists, funding summer programs and tutoring and covering the cost of safety measures because of COVID, according to plans released by the districts.

MITIGATING LEARNING LOSS

Data from the start of the 2020-2021 school year shows students lost an average of 5.7 months of learning from March 2020 to September 2020, and end-of-the-year data shows significant declines in academic performance, according to the Texas Education Agency.

To combat learning loss, multiple districts hired interventionists and created staff positions to help students performing below level.

Roughly 75 percent of the $2.9 million Friendswood Independent School District received will be used to create 13 positions. The district plans to spend $632,230 on interventionists for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and more than $1 million on six instructional coaches to ensure the curriculum addresses learning loss.

“Our interventionists are working directly with students, and our coaches are working directly with teachers,” said Stacy Guzzetta, executive director of student operations at the Friendswood ISD. “We hope both of these intense efforts and infusion of support will impact for years to come.”

Districts also are investing in summer education programs and technology. Texas City ISD will spend $1 million of its $22.4 million on a summer program for three years, while Galveston Independent School District will spend close to $1 million of its $15.7 million on instructional technology including Chromebooks and laptops for three years.

SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL NEEDS

It’s not just the academic needs schools are addressing. At Texas City ISD, nearly $3 million will be spent on services focusing on the students’ social and emotional needs.

“We have students that lost parents to COVID,” Duarte said. “We need to be able to provide that support for our students.”

Broken down, that money will be spent on hiring two social workers, two college and career counselors, four social-emotional learning counselors and four truancy clerks and implementing social-emotional learning programs and professional development and parent education and training.

Clear Creek ISD will add two additional counselors and an additional social worker to its staff, Superintendent Eric Williams said.

“Students are going to be more likely to grow academically if school districts focus on supporting students’ social and emotional wellness,” he said.

Some districts, like High Island and Santa Fe, plan to implement a social-emotional learning curriculum, while Galveston ISD will spend $220,349 over three years for a social-emotional learning specialist.

“Too often, districts across the nation focused just on the academic needs of students,” Williams said. “It’s become clear that a whole-child approach is much more effective.”

FUNDING FOR THE FUTURE

Funding is temporary, and much of what is created by the funds will need to be eliminated after three years or funded differently, officials said.

Texas City ISD has only advertised its positions as three-year grant positions, and once those three years have ended, the district will reevaluate whether it has the funding to continue, Duarte said.

Friendswood ISD also hopes to keep some positions past the allotted three years, Guzzetta said.

“These positions all help to further our district strategic plan,” she said. “At this time, we hope that the local budget can absorb these positions when the federal funding is gone.”

The districts are in the early stages of using the funding and have only received two-thirds of the funds. The final third will be released by the federal government at a later time.

“Districts are doing everything they can to provide quality instruction for students,” Duarte said. “These years have been challenging.”

Emma Collins: 409-683-5230; emma.collins@galvnews.com.

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