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Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency announced Tuesday that public school districts may not lose funding because of low attendance rates caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Texas, schools are funded based on the number of students enrolled and the daily attendance on campus. Currently, schools receive a base allotment of $6,160 per student each year. The pandemic disrupted not only learning, but also enrollment, as some school districts reported lower figures than in non-COVID years.
The average daily attendance is calculated by the sum of children present divided by days of instruction that schools are required to give. Texas schools have to be open for a minimum of 75,600 minutes over a school year, which includes recess and lunch.
But, because of the pandemic, children were absent and attendance rates dipped. To help public schools, the state will allow school districts to throw away low attendance day rates as a way to help their averages and not lose funding.
“Providing this adjustment to the 2021-22 school year will ensure school systems have the funding they need to retain the best and brightest teachers and provide quality education to all public school students across Texas,” Abbott said in a statement.
This is the third time that the state has given school districts some flexibility when it comes to funding and attendance during the pandemic.
During the fall of 2020, the state continued to fund schools for attendance estimates made before the pandemic. Then in the spring of 2021, when it was clear that enrollment was still not catching up, the state once again gave school districts that same leeway as long as they maintained or increased the rate of students attending class in person.
“This adjustment further accounts for COVID-19-related learning disruptions, and is yet another way we’re prioritizing the needs of our state’s teachers and students,” TEA commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement.
The state had seen an increase in public school enrollment every year since the 1987-88 school year up until 2020-21, when enrollment decreased by 2.2% to 5.3 million students — roughly a loss of 122,354 students from the 2019-20 school year, according to the latest TEA numbers.
Attendance has decreased for a number of reasons, including students moving to different school districts or states, parents not wanting to send younger students to school in grades that are not required, and students working or disengaged during a challenging time.
In some school districts, resources have been poured into finding out where these “lost” or disengaged students are.
Shannon Holmes, executive director of Association of Texas Professional Educators, said in a statement that the organization had been calling for this type of flexibility in school minutes as it was apparent early on in the school year that the pandemic would once again affect school districts. “This is just one example of support Texas educators need as they finish out another unimaginably difficult school year,” Holmes said.
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