By Bethany Blankley
The state of Texas is still funding public schools at their current funding level, Gov. Greg Abbott said, even though school systems have reported higher numbers of students with failing grades, and some are struggling to retain enrollment.
Over the past year, a record number of parents withdrew their children from Texas public schools for a range of reasons related to virtual learning or constantly changing and confusing policies.
The state’s latest initiative to address school system failures and struggles is to offer a hold harmless funding scheme for the third straight semester. School systems will still receive funding as long as they maintain or increase current levels of on-campus attendance to at least 80 percent and attendance rates do not decline, the Texas Education Agency announced.
Funded levels will remain the same, still based on attendance projections prior to the state shutdown and virtual learning initiatives, which resulted in many children not participating. Those that did increasingly failed.
The stated goal of continuing funding is to “ensure that school systems in Texas can retain their teachers for the 2020-21 school year for whom they originally budgeted,” according to a news release from the governor’s office. This is the third consecutive semester school districts have received a hold harmless funding declaration, including the spring semester of the 2019-20 academic year and the entire 2020-21 academic year.
The goal is for all school districts to return to in-person instruction, Abbott said, and the funding scheme was designed to ensure that schools were not financially penalized for declines in attendance because of his orders that first closed schools and later reopened them to virtual learning only prior to schools reopening for in-person instruction.
The hold harmless funding is being offered to help public schools complete the school year and encourage students to return to in-person instruction.
"It would be an understatement to say that Texas families have been negatively affected by the COVID environment,” state Rep. Harold Dutton said in a statement. “And perhaps those most affected have been our public school students who have had to educate remotely or not at all. Texas should do everything possible to get these students back to school but school districts must not be penalized financially for the absence of these students. That is why this hold harmless provision is a financial must for Texas school districts.”
Texas public schools all follow public health guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency, which established a variety of effective virus mitigation strategies. School districts are widely employing a range of measures including having teachers, employees and students wearing masks, implementing screening practices, improving ventilation systems, using rapid COVID-19 tests, and improving hygiene procedures. All Texas teachers and school staff are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Texas, the governor’s office said.
Prior to the state shutdown, schools were funded based on student enrollment determined by daily attendance on campus. As of last March, TEA allowed flexibility with enrollment reporting so that schools would still receive their full funding levels despite lower attendance, especially through virtual learning. The hold harmless allocates funding above the statutory guaranteed level of funding for students who are not enrolled, or for students who attend in-person and remotely less frequently.