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Texas school superintendents and education advocates are calling on the state not to cut funding next semester for districts experiencing declining enrollment due to COVID-19.
Texas funds schools based on attendance, whether students learn in the classroom or practically at home during the pandemic. Because many districts have seen enrollment plummet as schools and families grapple with closures and health issues, state leaders have agreed to fund districts for the first 18 weeks of this school year based of their expected number of attendance instead of the actual number of students.
But as January approaches, the reprieve comes to an end and school administrators say they are on the verge of falling off a funding cliff. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told a conference last week that he is still thinking about what to do next. “At the moment, we do not yet intend to extend it,” he said.
More than 20 educational organizations sent a letter to Morath and Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday urging them to extend the reprieve. “School districts across the state have seen an extreme drop in student enrollment in the first semester, and principals are planning the same over the next spring semester until the virus slows down and that the majority of Texans are vaccinated, ”the letter said. “Budget cuts will be inevitable, leading to the dismissal of some teachers and other essential school staff at the worst possible time.”
Enrollment is increasing as more students attend school in person, Morath said, referring to data collected between September and October. The next data snapshot is in late January, and Morath said he will be watching to see if this trend continues. Texas recently decided to allow school districts to require distance learners with Fs to return in person.
About 40% of the drop in enrollment is for junior kindergarten and kindergarten, which are optional for students in Texas, Morath said.
As COVID-19 cases rise again and economic instability persists for some Texans, administrators and teachers are still struggling to find some of their students. Many knock on doors and call parents’ cell phones. They fear that some of these students will be lost forever. And they are concerned about their ability to serve the students who have turned up, as they continue to face unforeseen costs during the pandemic.
“Our fear is that at the worst possible time, districts will find themselves in a place where they have to lay off staff or make other budget cuts or things of that nature,” said Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association. of School. Administrators.
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