BROWNSVILLE — Raise Your Hand Texas, a public education advocacy group, called on local leaders Thursday to wisely use their share of supplemental federal education funds released by the state for the good of Rio Grande Valley school children as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan recently announced that Texas will start flowing $11.2 billion in federal stimulus dollars to local school districts. Another $5.5 billion is available for school districts once they post individual plans of action to the U.S. Department of Education for how they will utilize the $11.2 billion.

The money represents hundreds of millions of dollars to Valley school districts. For the Brownsville Independent School District, $185.36 million is available, two- thirds, or $123 million, now and one-third, or $61 million once the action plan is posted to the DOE, said Prisci Roca Tipton, BISD Board of Trustees vice-president.

At a news conference at the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, George McShan of Raise Your Hand Texas said the money represents a big shot in the arm but urged public accountability for how the money is spent so that public education can reach its goal that “every child has the chance to meet their potential.”

He also urged people to follow the science and get vaccinated because “getting vaccinated is the smart thing to do.”

As public education budget hearings draw near, Raise Your Hand Texas is urging the Legislature to make sure the current health crisis doesn’t become a generational education crisis.

This includes renewing the commitment to fully fund House Bill 3 and its promise for special education students, English language learners, career and technical education and safety, as well as teacher pay raises. The organization also is calling for ensuring that federal stimulus dollars earmarked for public education remain in the public schools.

BISD Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said receiving the funding was exciting news, that the money is badly needed and that “the recovery starts now.”

He said BISD is starting to bring students back into the classroom because face-to-face instruction is the best way to close the learning gaps caused by COVID-19 and a year of distance learning.

“We’re planning to extend school days and expand summer school because the data shows it’s going to take us three to five years to close the gaps,” he said.

The funding will also help BISD improve the air quality in its facilities and address the social and emotional learning needs caused by the pandemic, he said.