Can we please not screw the schools right now?

Really, we don’t have to do this.

Across the Houston region and Texas, school districts that lost enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic are facing a drop in state funds starting in January if the Texas Education Agency or state lawmakers do not act.

Since the virus began sweeping across the state and nation last March, forcing schools to close, the TEA has given districts several grace periods in which it provided them the same funding they would have received in normal times. To date, that has provided a lifeline to districts that otherwise would have seen their state revenues plunge due to lower-than-expected student enrollments.

The current grace period, which the TEA calls a “hold harmless guarantee,” ends Dec. 31.

The Texas Legislature in 2019 allocated enough money to fund schools at their current levels until the end of the school year, but the TEA has remained mum on whether it will extend the hold harmless guarantee until then. Without another extension for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, some local district finance officials worry they will be faced with two bad options: dip into and potentially deplete their reserve funds to keep their districts operating through spring, or lay off teachers and staff to make ends meet.

For Houston-area districts, which began the school year missing more than 20,000 students, the financial ramifications could run into the tens of millions of dollars. For example, Alief ISD could lose nearly $40 million after enrollment fell 3,500 short of initial estimates.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, which has 2,364 fewer students now than at the end of last year, estimates it could lose $29 million. Aldine ISD could “easily” miss out on $20 million after its enrollment fell 4,000 students shy of projections, and Pasadena ISD would face a shortfall of nearly $14 million due to a 2,261-student enrollment drop.

Houston ISD did not respond to a request for comment, but the district began the year with 13,000 fewer students than expected.

There is no one answer for why students have dropped off schools’ radars. Some may have moved with family in search of work. Parents of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students may wait to enroll them until school operations are more normal. Others may have been kept at home by parents waiting for COVID infection levels to improve before sending their kids back to school.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told the Chronicle’s editorial board in November the agency “already provided unprecedented flexibility to offer remote learning, and with it, full funding.”

“However, we know that certain districts face challenges because of significant enrollment declines, and we are working to ensure that our schools and teachers receive the additional financial support we need,” Morath said.

The lack of a concrete assurance that districts statewide will continue to receive funding at current levels has many on edge, said Kevin Brown, executive director of the Texas Association of School Administrators.

“Everybody right now is holding their breath, hoping the state will come through with hold harmless,” Brown said. “But they’re also starting to look at what will happen if that doesn’t come through — are they going to have to do layoffs, and if so, how extensively?”

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Cypress, said while enrollments remain lower-than-predicted across the state, the situation is improving as the school year plays out and kids come back. He also said he expects more students to return as COVID-19 vaccines begin to be distributed.

Returning funding to the state’s attendance-based formula creates an incentive for districts to keep looking for students who have not shown up.

“You have to balance all these needs, because we have to keep the public school system making sure they make every effort to find students,” he said. “Otherwise children are left behind.”

I mean, look. Schools and school districts and teachers – and parents and students – are contending with a lot this year. They’re doing the best they can under extreme circumstances. While the state of Texas is also under financial constraints, this is exactly the sort of situation for which the Rainy Day Fund – also known as the Economic Stabilization Fund – was created, to smooth out unexpected downturns in revenue and tide things over till they rebound. And for the millionth time, I will note that our state Republican leadership could be loudly demanding that our two Republican Senators support a COVID relief package that gives financial support to state and local governments, including school boards, that are suffering through the effects of the pandemic. There are many things we could do that do not involve putting all the burden on the school districts. We just have to choose to do them.

Related Posts:

This entry was posted in School days and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Can we please not screw the schools right now?

  1. David Fagan says:

    If you, Kuff, are always harping that Republicans are not doing anything, then what are Democrats doing? I read about blue waves and Texas turning blue, but all the problems seem to stem from Republicans only. If there is something going right in this state, I’m thinking by this logic, that it is because Democrats had done it. So, what are the tremendously good things Democrats have done besides getting elected?

  2. Ross says:

    David, the Republicans have a majority in both houses of the Texas Legislature. Failure to properly fund schools is entirely on them.

  3. Chris M. says:

    Interesting math….

    Alief loses $40mil on 3,500 kids or $11,428.57 per kid

    Cy Fair loses $29mil on 2,364 kids or $12,267.34 per kid

    Aldine loses $20mil on 4,000 kids or $5,000.00 per kid

    Pasadena loses $14mil on 2,261 kids or $6,191.95 per kid

  4. David Fagan says:

    Soooooo, the Democrat positions are completely powerless in all sense of the word? Therefore there is nothing good happening in Texas at all? Democrats must be just getting elected into office and sit in their office doing nothing but blame Republicans? Is this what you’re telling me?

  5. Bill Daniels says:

    I’m trying to figure out what’s improper about sending less money to school districts when they have fewer students to educate. When a business loses customers, less money comes in and those businesses have to adjust to that new reality. Is this really controversial?

    If I have 4 kids in daycare, then I pull one out and start sending only 3 kids to daycare, should I be expected to pay the same amount I did when I was having 4 kids taken care of? What am I missing here?

  6. Lobo says:

    What am I missing here?

    How about inelastic operating costs (same or similar costs regardless of ratio of kids to staff, N of pupils per square foot of school building), and marginal cost dynamic (each additional kid cheaper to service, but not in reverse because–for example–regular teachers don’t get paid by the hour (precluding hour-reduction commensurate with reduction in demand) and cannot have their salary reduced commensurate with the reduction of kids per class/per teacher.)

    As for cancelling positions/laying off teachers, it’s going to hurt the economy if the affected population can’t spend money to feed themselves and their families/their own kids (reduction in consumer demand in the monetized economy as opposed to soup kitchens/give-away lanes), and if they can’t pay rent or mortgage it’s going to have ripple effects for property owners and banks/investors. Will accelerate downward spiral.

    Assuming they are eligible for unemployment benefits or some sort of COVID-related income support, it merely shifts the source of maintenance payments (still public/socialized) with no services provide in return.

    From a systemic perspective, it’s better to keep teachers on payroll and teaching online, perhaps teaching smaller groups/ and providing more individualized attention to compensate for loss of effectiveness/impact of remote teaching relative to in-person/in-class instruction.

  7. Bill Daniels says:


    You could make the EXACT same arguments about ANY business. And private businesses are forced to deal with market changes all the time. Take the oil patch. Exxon has to deal with low oil prices, so what’s any different about HISD having to deal with lower revenues because of low student counts?

    One neighbor works for Exxon and faces a layoff, the other works for HISD, also faces layoff and you seem only to have compassion for one of them. All your arguments fit each scenario exactly.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    Edit: Oh, and there is a difference you missed. School districts aren’t paying property taxes. Exxon still has to pay the same tax on their refinery whether they’re at 100% capacity, or at 50% capacity. Guess what? The school district still wants all their tax money from Exxon, no matter what the price of oil is, or how many kids have left the district.

  9. Ross says:

    Bill, if my kid’s school has one child fewer in each class, which means 100 fewer kids, as there’s 100 teachers, and using the number from a few years ago of $32 per day in funding, that means a loss of $3200 per day in funding. The costs are the same, though, since the school still needs the same number of teachers, same number of staff, same amount of air conditioning, etc. As Lobo mentioned, many of the costs for schools, and other public services, are inelastic, and don’t change with enrollment unless enrollment changes enough to all a reduction in staff.

    I do feel more sympathy for the HISD teacher facing layoff. They are far less likely to have sufficient money set aside for times of unemployment, as they make far less than the Exxon guy. Teachers in HISD make $65k per year after something like 20 years. An Exxon guy after 20 years is probably making 2 times that if he’s an accountant or IT person, and up to 5 times that if he’s a manager of some sort.

    You really need to get a clue of how the real world works, dude.

  10. Bill Daniels says:


    I’m familiar with inelastic demand. As stated, Exxon, and every other business faces all of that too. They shut in refining capacity and run at 50%? They still need roughly the same number of operators, maintenance guys, accountants, janitors, etc. that they would if they were blowing and going 100%. Yet you’re not crying about Exxon and it’s employees, or, for example, every single one of Houston’s restaurants and bars that are forced to run at half capacity or worse. They still have to pay the mortgage, light bill, employees, PROPERTY TAXES, and all the other inelastic costs. Oh, so it’s employee salary you’re concerned about? That’s the metric we’re to use on you caring about people? Pretty sure most of the restaurant and bar employees would love a steady gig with pay, benefits and retirement that the HISD teachers are getting.

    So you’re not crying at all for the restaurant and bar folks, who are making far less in pay and bennies than the HISD folks, and you wouldn’t hesitate to take the restaurant’s building if they didn’t pay up on their property taxes to the school district. Screw them, I guess, as long as HISD gets everything they feel they have coming, because the real world shouldn’t affect HISD.

    I have great affection teachers….just trust me, OK? Having said that, the pain from a bad economy should be spread around, not just inflicted on certain groups, while others are unscathed, wouldn’t you agree? Personally, I’d like to see all of our elected officials take pay cuts, especially those like Abbott, Turner and Dora whose edicts decimate the lives of others. Maybe we could agree on that?

  11. Bill Daniels says:

    *effect HISD

  12. Bill Daniels says:

    *affection for teachers

  13. Lobo says:

    Bill’s basic fallacy: equating public school system with a for-profit enterprise

    Public education is a public good; pupils are not customers; and the “business” of public education is not for profit in the ordinary sense of the term. Instead, it’s an investment in the society’s/economy’s/state’s/country’s future: a collective good; society’s future human capital and productive capacity.

    Also, in historical and comparative view, compulsory free universal public education is one of the ingredients of American success and rise to economic powerhouse and geo-political great-power status.

    Strictly speaking, tax-funded primary and secondary education is a form of much-maligned “socialism” by another name. It involves the transfer of resources and provision of benefits to a segment of society (aged 5/6-18) that doesn’t pay for it, but is expected to be productive in the future, thus providing a return for the public investment that then benefits the public, including the no-longer productive retired/aging segment thereof.

    The return on public investment in educating the next generation includes production of goods/services (measured at the macro level by GDP), paying taxes, and contributing to the pay-as-you-go Social Security system, which is another form of redistribution from those who are productive to those who are not, monetarily speaking. Not all socially beneficial activity/labor is monetized and included in the GDP, of course, such as child care/rearing provided by parents and elder care provided by adult children, for example).

Comments are closed.