The San Antonio Report will launch the three-part 2021 San Antonio Regional Education Forum Virtual Series on Wednesday, with the first event focusing on the $18 billion in federal relief funds intended for Texas schools.

Editor Robert Rivard will moderate “The Battle Over $18 Billion in Federal Stimulus Funds for Texas Public Schools,” a two-panel discussion that starts at noon. The 75-minute program will be livestreamed on the San Antonio Report’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Local and state education leaders will discuss the approach Texas’ top government officials took last month in disbursing $11.2 billion of $17.9 billion in federal aid for schools, weeks after education advocates began calling for the state to release the funds. Another $7 billion in federal funds for Texas schools still hangs in the balance.

“Our area public schools have struggled to stay connected to students through one and a half academic years, and finally they will begin to see the federal relief funds intended to help them rebound,” Rivard said. “Educators will share frank assessments of the challenges ahead and how those stimulus funds will be used. It should be the first in-depth look at the situation since state officials agreed to release the funding.”

The first panel will feature Kevin Brown, Texas Association of School Administrators director; Marisa B. Perez-Diaz, District 3 representative on the State Board of Education; and Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education and president and CEO of Texas 2036, a research-driven nonprofit developing strategies to ensure the state’s success past its bicentennial.

The second panel will feature superintendents from the San Antonio area who will talk about the importance of these funds and how they plan to use them. Panelists include Judson Independent School District Superintendent Jeanette Ball, Edgewood ISD Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez, and East Central ISD Superintendent Roland Toscano.

The dollars come from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act signed in December 2020 and the American Rescue Plan Act adopted in March. They are meant to help schools address learning gaps and pay for other pandemic-related expenses.

School leaders and education advocates had feared the state would again use federal coronavirus relief funds to plug holes in the state’s budget. Texas received $1.3 billion from last year’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and instead of supplementing schools’ budgets, the state sent the federal dollars to schools and reduced their share of state funds by similar amounts.

The next events in the San Antonio Regional Education Forum Virtual Series will be held June 30 and Aug. 11. The June event will focus on teaching and learning in a pandemic, and the August event will center on higher education and workforce development.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.