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Millions in local school funding hinge on TEA decision

Published: Jan. 21, 2021 at 7:08 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - School districts in Central Texas and across the state are worried that lower attendance numbers because of the pandemic could mean they will receive significantly less money from the state.

During the fall semester, districts were held harmless, a technical term meaning that districts’ funding was not tied to lower attendance numbers.

Instead, the Texas Education Agency based funding on historic attendance numbers when schools had a full roster of students.

However, the TEA has not specified whether it will continue to hold districts harmless into the spring semester.

Waco ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon told KWTX her district could lose as much as $6.5 million if the TEA does not hold it harmless.

“That impacts our ability to fund salaries, to pay our utilities and continue our day to day operations,” she said.

The commissioner of the agency has not indicated which way he will decide.

“There’s advocacy groups; there’s superintendents; there’s business leaders; there’s 82 Texas legislators who’ve signed a letter to Commissioner Morath saying, ‘Hey, you know, don’t hold the attendance rate against the students,’” said Dr. Charles Luke, the director of the Coalition for Education Funding.

The hold harmless discussion comes as the state finds itself with a nearly $1 billion budget deficit heading into the legislative session.

Amid the pandemic-induced budget woes, public school advocates continue to worry about how state lawmakers will make good on their promises in House Bill 3, the landmark public education bill passed last session.

That bill included more than $6 billion in new public education spending and allocated more than $5 billion for lowering property tax bills.

It included money for teacher raises and a teacher incentive program based on test scores and performance.

It also included money for free full-day pre-K for certain students.

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