We urge Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to follow through with a plan to financially help school districts facing declines in student population or property values because of Hurricane Harvey.
Morath sent a letter last week informing district leaders across Galveston County that he hoped to get them some extra money to get through the crisis.
Morath said he was trying to find money to shore up districts that would lose revenue because of declining property values and reduced average daily attendance because of the flooding.
Average daily attendance helps determine how much funding a school district gets from the state. The more students, the more money and vice versa.
Harvey made landfall Aug. 25 in Rockport, about 200 miles south of Galveston County, but in the 72 or so hours that followed, it dumped more than 50 inches of rain in some parts of the county, swelling creeks and bayous and flooding an estimated 20,000 homes in the county.
The storm displaced families, who have sought temporary residence in hotels, shelters and housing in the county and elsewhere, disrupting the start of school and shaking up enrollment.
The Friendswood school district alone has 387 displaced students, with 133 of them living outside of the district, Superintendent Thad Roher said.
Dickinson Independent School District is down more than 300 students because of Hurricane Harvey, said Tammy Dowdy, spokeswoman for the district.
Student population is particularly critical to school districts as it is one of the primary ways the Texas Education Agency determines their funding.
Funding losses wouldn’t affect districts this school year, but Morath said he’s also working to help schools in the long run.
“We ask districts to consider the TEA’s efforts to explore options related to funding adjustments before making personnel or other decisions to reduce operational costs based on anticipated losses of FSP funds,” Morath said.
The Foundation School Program, or FSP, is where most state funding for school districts comes from.
The possibility of losing more funding comes at a time when school boards across Galveston County are forced to adopt deficit budgets as they struggle with myriad issues. Those include a state system that funnels local tax money to districts with small tax bases, less state funding and the loss of other funding avenues.
The Texas City school district had about 60 students displaced in Hurricane Harvey, said Melissa Tortorici, spokeswoman for Texas City Independent School District.
While several district leaders were optimistic about the agency’s willingness to help, Friendswood officials said there were other ways the storm hurt them financially besides the loss of students and property.
“Right now, we are transporting approximately 30 of the 134 students in locations outside of the FISD boundary,” said Connie Morgenroth, assistant superintendent of business and operations.
“These students are all protected by federal guidelines for displaced students and have the right to attend the school they were attending before being displaced. So, we know we will have additional transportation costs and we are tracking these additional miles and hope that there will be some additional funding to help with these costs.”
The hard truth is that public school districts all over Texas already were struggling with the financial consequences of inaction and bad action by the Texas Legislature before Harvey.
They already were having to dip into reserve funds to cover budget shortfalls and already thinking about cuts to programs and staffing in the not-too-distant future.
Obviously, the disruption of a historical flood will exacerbate all of that, so help from the state is essential.
• Michael A. Smith