KAUFMAN COUNTY, Texas — In a historic pledge by Kaufman County commissioners this week, public school children county-wide will benefit from an initial $2 million dollars in federal CARES Act dollars that will be further maximized by grant funding thanks to the collaboration and hard work of local school superintendents.
In March Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Under the CARES Act, the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is to be used to make payments for specified uses to states and local governments. The total CRF funding allocated to the state of Texas was approximately $11 billion. The U.S. Treasury managed the initial distribution of these funds to states and jurisdictions with populations above 500,000.
The Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) was charged by the Governor to manage the distribution of funds, review of expenses and reimbursement based on a calculation of $55 per capita for the remaining jurisdictions.
According to TDEM, Kaufman County is eligible to receive up to $3.8 million in CRF dollars and was initially eligible for immediate payment of twenty percent, or $763,521. The remainder of the allocation will be reimbursement based. The county will submit documentation to TDEM and request reimbursement.
Eligible expenses include medical expenses, Public health expenses and payroll expenses for public safety, public health, health care, human services, and similar employees whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Expenses of actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19 related public health measures and expenses associated with the provision of economic support in connection with the COVID-19 public health emergency are also eligible.
“Of the $763,521…the county has spent $211K for cleaning and disinfectant supplies, building materials for signage and protection shields put in place to keep employees and citizens safe during transactions with the various offices and locations,” county auditor Karen MacLeod tells inForney.com.
“Laptops were purchased in case staff had to be sent home to quarantine, so county business could continue. We are paying an outside firm to cleanse and sanitize our courtrooms for the safety of staff and citizens,” she says.
Meanwhile, the Texas Education Agency is also offering public schools grant money to recover the cost of technology expenses for devices and connectivity infrastructure that was initially absorbed by local districts during the pandemic and onset of virtual learning. This specific TEA grant money will only match COVID relief dollars given to districts by their local counties, therefore, to maximize state and federal dollars, local school administrators needed to solicit the support of local county commissioners.
In some instances, this would allow local districts to double their CRF dollars.
What happened next was an unprecedented act of collaboration among local school superintendents to garner an unprecedented amount of funding.
“We have always worked closely together and met regularly to share best practices and collaborate on common issues,” Scurry-Rosser Superintendent, James D. Sanders, told inForney.com.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, those meetings have become more frequent, more informative and more powerful than ever before. We have realized together during this time that there is a commonality to all of us, but that each district brings its own set of skills and resources to the table that helps benefit us all. It has been extremely special to watch as we have worked together in ways we never would have imagined before,” Sanders says.
Terrell ISD Superintendent Dr. Georgeanne Warnock led the charge to pitch the idea to county commissioners and then rallied the superintendents across the county to agree collectively on how the funds would be distributed among the districts if the commissioner’s granted the funding.
“We knew we had strong case to take to commissioners and the county judge that we are stronger together,” Dr. Warnock says. “Their generosity will allow us all to maximize those dollars and with matching grants make a huge impact on classrooms across the county like never before.”
According to Dr. Warnock, the first million dollars will be divided amongst the districts based on student population. The remaining million is being divided based on the student population that receives reduced or free lunch. Funding amounts were also adjusted based on the percentage of taxable values within Kaufman county for districts that have boundaries in multiple counties. All the districts agreed this metric was the fairest division of funds.
Superintendents say they are thankful that the commissioners were willing to share the CARES Act funding to be eligible for additional grant funding since districts had been hit especially hard with unbudgeted expenses last year that have carried over.
“We appreciate the continued support of education in our community, says Forney ISD Superintendent Dr. Justin Terry. “This is a significant contribution providing much needed additional funds for the safety of students, and ultimately families across Kaufman County.”
Most districts reported that these reimbursements and any additional funds will continue to fund more technology and sanitation and cleaning expenses as they continue to battle the pandemic.
Kaufman county is one of the first counties in Texas to announce such a pledge to schools and it is drawing attention of districts from near and far.
“I am hearing from superintendents from across the state calling to congratulate us and ask us how we did this,” Dr. Warnock says. “I am blessed to get to work alongside some of the best superintendents and together we’re a great team and this was a great partnership.”
According to county officials, they are in the process of putting together a grant program that will allow any non-profit entity who has spent money for COVID for non-budgeted items to apply for potential reimbursement with the remaining CRF dollars. Any unused funds will have to be returned.