Officials from more than a dozen school districts devastated by Hurricane Harvey pleaded with state lawmakers on Thursday for some relief as the districts slowly recover.
Among the most common requests made to the Texas House Public Education Committee was for more money in anticipation of tax revenue loss; more money to help educate an increasing number of children without permanent homes; and more pressure on the federal government to remove barriers to obtaining federal disaster money and to provide continued funding for free lunches for all students.
“Our families are ready to be back and our community has said whatever you have to do … get your schools open,” said Sharon McKinney, superintendent of the Port Aransas school district, which has a $6.7 million annual budget but experienced $10 million to $12 million in damage. “It really will be the first step and the most important step to our recovery as a community.”
Port Aransas and Aransas Pass school districts are the only two school districts left in the state that haven’t reopened since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast. Students will return to school in those districts on Monday.
Texas education Commissioner Mike Morath said on Thursday education will be among the biggest Harvey-related costs to the state. The Texas Education Agency estimates spending an additional $1.6 billion over the next two years.
Because school districts are funded based on student enrollment, about $400 million of Harvey costs will go toward keeping revenue the same for school districts who lose students due to the storm.
School districts who gained students due the storm also will receive additional money but that’s already accounted for in the budget.
The state also likely will miss $974 million in foregone recapture payments from property-wealthy districts such as Port Aransas and Aransas County. Property-wealthy school districts typically make recapture payments to the state to help support property-poor school districts. However, state law permits school districts affected by natural disasters to deduct from recapture payments the amount of money spent on disaster recovery not covered by insurance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
TEA also is expected to spend an additional $266 million over the next two years to help school districts educate more students who have become low-income because of the storm.
School district officials on Thursday urged TEA to push the federal government to continue free lunches for students in school districts affected by the hurricane through the end of the semester if not longer.
“That has been the best thing that’s ever happened to us — to be able to not have to tell a kid or tell a parent, ‘Hey, you’re behind in your lunch payments,’ when they’re just happy they have enough clothes to be able to wear,” said Troy Mircovich, superintendent of the Ingleside school district.