Texas has given public schools permission to keep campuses closed for more than 5 million students well into the fall as the state scrambles to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, Vice Chair Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, and House Appropriations Committee Chair Giovanni Capriglione and Vice Chair Oscar Longoriaon Friday announced that the State of Texas will allocate $200 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the purchase of eLearning devices and home internet solutions to enable remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic for Texas students that lack connectivity.
Under the new guidelines, Texas schools could hold online-only instruction for up to the first eight weeks of the school year. The Texas Education Agency said students who are not equipped for virtual learning, particularly those whose families lack reliable internet access or a computer, will still be entitled to on-campus instruction once the school year begins.
With this funding, the TEA will purchase and distribute devices, hotspots, routers, and more based on specific needs identified by local education agencies (LEAs). The funding would be used to establish a reimbursement program with a matching fund component tied to locally controlled Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) or LEA local funding. This funding is in addition to a previously announced distribution of up to $400 million of CRF to reimburse districts for COVID-19 expenses incurred during the 2019-2020 school year. This funding will also establish a reimbursement program for devices and home internet costs incurred by LEAs from May 21st through September 1st.
“As school districts delay the start of in-person instruction for the 2020-2021 school year due to COVID-19, it is essential that we work to provide Texas students with the devices they need to connect and communicate online for classroom instruction,” said Governor Abbott. “As we continue to combat COVID-19 in Texas, we are committed to providing reliable and effective solutions that will help students academically succeed while protecting public health.”
“While getting our students back to school is our top priority, many local districts are also developing a variety of virtual learning plans to ensure that students do not lose valuable learning time as we continue to fight COVID-19. This funding is an essential step in closing the digital gap for students by making access to technology available to every child who needs it,” said Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
“The onset of COVID-19 has yielded unprecedented educational challenges in the State of Texas, and the embrace of new technologies and virtual learning methods will be instrumental in our effort to provide quality instructional continuity for all students. This funding will go a long way to close existing technology gaps and improve connectivity statewide, and in doing so, our students will be equipped with the tools needed for success in the upcoming school year,” said Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
“Virtual learning works when students have access to the proper wi-fi and electronic devices. These funds help bridge the digital divide and prevent students who lack access to technology from falling behind,” said Senator Jane Nelson.
“No child should ever be denied the ability to achieve his/her dreams simply because he/she does not have technological devices or internet access. Education is the great equalizer and while that will look different in the near term, a move to distance learning to protect students and teachers can only be effective for all learners if they all are able to actively learn and participate. Today’s actions by the Governor and TEA will move us toward this goal of ensuring every child has equal access to the tools and resources necessary to achieve a high-quality education,” said Senator Juan Hinojosa.
Texas’ largest teachers organization said the announcement did not go far enough.
“Educators, students and their parents need assurance that school buildings will not be reopened until it is safe to do so. Right now, with the pandemic still raging across Texas, we don’t know when that will be,” Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina said in a statement.