Most Texas school districts in counties hit by Harvey have opened or will soon reopen, but officials at eight school districts in the Beaumont area as well as some in the Corpus Christi area still aren’t sure when they’ll start classes.
State Education Commissioner Mike Morath told the State Board of Education Wednesday morning that more than 1.4 million public school students are in counties affected by the storm. The timing of the storm thrust into uncertainty the start date for many districts as well how school boards would approve their budgets which must be done by Aug. 31 of each year.
The Houston school district has implemented a rolling start date for classes. The Woodsboro school district has reopened, but the Sheldon school district near Houston won’t reopen until Sept. 18. Eight school districts in the Beaumont area are still determining potential start dates as well as some in the Corpus Christi area.
Morath said Aransas Pass school board members, some of them in shelters, had to adopt the district’s budget over the phone.
“The hurricane was pretty massive,” Morath said. “We have been feverishly busy trying to support the affected school districts and charters all over the state of Texas.”
Morath added that school districts in affected areas opened up their campuses for evacuees and fired up cafeterias to feed families. Although the Pasadena superintendent couldn’t get to the school, she was able to remotely unlock it to house about 1,000 people. The Houston school district opened some 40 schools to house evacuees, too.
Texas Education Agency staff members and teachers also stepped up to conduct rescues and send donations to devastated areas, Morath said.
“The stories of heartbreak and of heroism that we’ve heard are nothing short of unbelievable,” Morath said.
Morath said Gov. Greg Abbott has worked with FEMA officials to bring down recovery costs for school districts. In most cases, school districts will only have to pay 10 percent, instead of 25 percent, of recovery costs for, among other things, repairing buildings, replacing textbooks, and buying computers and food.
He said the Texas Education Agency can tap its 2019 budget to help pay for any costs incurred by Harvey. Any hole left in the 2019 budget will have to be addressed in the next regular legislative session which starts January 2019.
Morath also said the agency hasn’t made any decisions whether students will have to take state standardized tests this year or if the scores will count against students and schools in the accountability system. As of Wednesday, 233,500 people have signed an online petition to cancel the STAAR test and use that money for Harvey recovery.
The education agency has created a hotline for parents to ask about information related to Harvey — (512) 463-9603. The agency will also launch sometime next week a website for school districts affected by Harvey to solicit donations.