September 22, 2023


education gives you strength

Commentary: Guarantee funding for school year

Communities, families and teachers throughout Texas are having the same conversation: What does back to school look like this year, and how do we balance students’ learning and parents’ need for child care with health and safety?

We know there are no easy answers. But we do know that every solution, in every part of our state, will require steady and reliable school funding. We also know that current Texas Education Agency policies put that funding at risk. As we talk about the start of the school year, we also need to talk about how the TEA plans to allocate money for our schools. Its current plans threaten that funding. We need to act now to ensure every Texas school has the money it needs.

In the weeks ahead, 5.4 million Texas students are expected to start the new school year in some form. Navigating this moment will require flexibility and ingenuity, based on good public health data, thoughtful discussion about what’s best for students and teachers, and enough local control to factor in different rates of disease in different Texas communities. Thoughtful plans are not possible without knowing how much funding is available.

While some might assume that costs will drop if some students will be learning from home or if kids are in the classroom only part of the year, the opposite is true. A study from the Association of School Business Officials estimates that it will cost an average district millions to provide PPE, increase cleaning, transport students safely and staff new health-monitoring systems. This estimate does not include other essentials, such as training teachers for effective virtual learning or ensuring that students have the tech needed to connect to those virtual classrooms. Everything about education in the age of COVID-19 costs more, not less.

For months, district leaders, teachers and parents have been following the latest guidance from the TEA. Now, with back to school here or days away, confusion has turned to alarm. Many TEA announcements about how schools will open and how the state will fund districts have been confusing or contradictory. More than once, a key statement made one day is reversed soon after. Most recently, TEA has issued rules that force districts to choose between plans that ensure funding, and plans that ensure the best balance of education for students and safety for students and staff.

Districts know that this year, and every year, funding depends on following TEA’s rules. But that’s impossible when some of those rules are contradictory, unclear and change from day to day. We are asking Gov. Greg Abbott to cut through the noise and commit to funding Texas schools at a level based on last year’s pre-COVID-19 attendance levels for the entire school year.

Last spring, TEA recognized that reliable attendance figures would be hard to capture in the midst of a pandemic, and chose a system that would ensure reliable and steady funding for every Texas district — a “hold harmless” plan that guaranteed not to cut funding below the last available attendance numbers. Right now, TEA has committed to holding districts harmless for the first 12 weeks of school — with the caveat that if districts choose to go fully remote for longer than eight weeks and don’t receive TEA approval for doing so, they would lose funding. Our schools and communities need to know funding will hold steady all year long.

We urge Abbott to direct Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to commit to funding Texas public schools for the entire 2020-21 school year at a hold-harmless level, based on last year’s attendance levels. Cutting funding partway through the year based on attendance or task completion risks our students’ health, our teachers’ jobs and our communities’ safety. More than 5.4 million children are counting on Texas to provide the public education they are promised under the Texas Constitution.

Just Fund It TX is a group of parents, students and citizens from around the state concerned about adequate funding for Texas public schools.

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