Texas public schools may receive funding despite declining attendance rates, per Gov. Abbott

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Parents and an education leader reacted to the announcement made by Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on Tuesday, which stated public school districts may not lose funding due to attendance rates impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the announcement, Abbott and the TEA stated:"School districts in Texas may be eligible for an adjustment in operational minutes requirements for certain attendance reporting periods during the 2021-2022 academic school year."

This would apply for the first four grading periods of the current school year. Texas public school districts that have experienced a decline in attendance rates due to the impacts of COVID could still be eligible for funding, under this ruling.

SEE ALSO: Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Education Agency announce funding for districts affected by COVID-19

Typically, a school district's funding is based on enrollment and daily attendance numbers.

Jackie Anderson, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the announcement was too broad and left a lot more questions than answers on how it will impact public schools.

"I would like to see the full specifics of this announcement," Anderson said. "It was very broad, and we just don't know everything, you know? I can't wait until it's actually vetted through and we get full disclosure on what we can expect."

With this funding adjustment, Anderson said districts can still be penalized for losses of ADA due to declining enrollment. Earlier this month, HISD Superintendent Millard House II noted that enrollment was one of the key pillars the district was focusing on to prevent a significant loss in funding.
Enrollment at public schools is down statewide. At Houston ISD, enrollment is down by 18,072 students compared to before the pandemic, according to a 13 Investigates analysis of TEA data. Since public school funding is tied to enrollment in Texas, the district could lose $228.5 million in state funding if the TEA doesn't extend a hold harmless agreement that in the last two years let districts receive funding based on pre-pandemic totals.

Christina Quintero has two students enrolled in Houston ISD and said she was relieved to hear Texas public school districts could possibly not be penalized with the loss of funding due to attendance numbers impacted by the pandemic. However, Quintero said she hopes to see the funding adjustment extended.

"They're going ahead and considering the first four grading periods," Quintero said, referring to Tuesday's announcement. "I think it should be the whole year and the following year in order to really be able to bridge that gap in the learning and be able to provide that support to our students. It was discussed that the governor wants quality education for our students; how better we can do that is to support them consistently for a year, so we have the funding for that."

Maria Fernandez, a parent with Lamar Consolidated ISD, agrees with Quintero. She wants to see more support for students and staff in the coming years, due to the long-term impacts of the pandemic on both learning and enrollment numbers.

"While I am glad the governor chose to minimize the attendance requirement, resulting in increased funding opportunities for schools impacted by COVID absences, the key issue has not been addressed, and this is a band-aid," Fernandez wrote in a statement to ABC13. "Funding should be based on enrollment and not attendance. It would make funding consistent so a school could adequately plan. It would make funding more equitable. Today communities where there are more obstacles to attendance are disproportionately impacted by the attendance methodology."

ABC13 reached out to Houston ISD, who send the following statement:

HISD along with school districts nationwide continues to work through the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic including the decline in attendance rates. Our goal continues to be focused on bringing as many students as possible back into the classroom for safe, in-person learning and increasing overall enrollment and attendance rates. This funding adjustment, coupled with our recently unveiled strategic plan, will help us work towards our goal of retaining high-quality educators and providing our students with a high-quality education as we look forward to our 22-23 school year.

We also reached out to Alief ISD and have not heard back yet on how this funding adjustment will impact the districts. Katy ISD declined to comment at this time.

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