Texas officials estimate taxpayers will be on the hook for $1.64 billion over the next two years to cover the cost of rebuilding schools that were severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey. The schools suffered losses from structural damage, water damage, and from a drop in students attending.
Schools in Texas receive state funding based on their average number of students enrolled and their daily attendance. Hurricane Harvey dropped well over 23-trillion gallons of water along the Gulf Coast, and heavy flooding ensued. As families fled the floodwaters, their homes were displaced, and students are being enrolled in other districts. Lawmakers and educators are trying to figure out how to keep funding for the districts facing a significant drop in enrollment.
The Texas Education Agency predicts about $400 million in losses will be attributable to a reduced level of enrollment at schools affected by the hurricane. Another $974 million is lost from the “Robin Hood” program, taking money from affluent school districts and redistributing it to low-income districts.
After Hurricane Harvey, school districts that are normally required to contribute to the “Robin Hood” program will have their fees waived if their schools suffered damages not covered by FEMA. The TEA estimates twenty percent of districts affected by the storm are contributors, and Houston Independent School District contributed $80 million to the program last year.
A spokesperson for the state’s education agency stressed that the numbers being discussed right now are only the first step of the investigation and are likely to change. Critics see the figures as a good sign; they’re an indication of the state’s commitment to parents that schools destroyed by Harvey will be able to reopen soon.
“From day one, we told our districts that we are going to do everything we can to assist them,” said TEA spokesperson, Lauren Callahan. A new plan is being implemented to give schools funding based on a three-year enrollment average in hopes that the affected districts and charters will balance out.
Education Commissioner, Mike Morath wrote in a statement, “Many of our school systems have seen major disruptions in their communities because of Hurricane Harvey.” He went on to explain, “This one-time adjustment is meant to bring some certainty for the remainder of this school year as school leaders face a number of major financial decisions following this devastating storm.”
So far, an estimated 157 school systems and charter schools that receive state funding will be under this new plan. The funding is only applicable to the 2017-2018 school year and will be an average of enrollment including the 2014 – 2015 and 2016 – 2017 school years.
Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Joe Straus not only approve of Morath’s efforts but praise them.
“Many Texas schools have suffered setbacks following Hurricane Harvey, but Texas is committed to ensuring that our students continue to receive the best education possible,” Abbott expressed in a written statement.
Students that lost their homes or a stable environment will continue to be covered by the school system. Around $266 million will be put towards daily services for displaced students, including meals. There are still no estimates from the education department regarding the loss of money from depreciated property values, but some districts have seen homes in their area drop by 50 percent.
Harvey wreaked havoc in 60 counties across Texas and displaced 1.4 million students in the process. Aransas Pass, Aransas County, and Port Aransas, three of the districts most severely hit, are still closed. Most of the students in these districts have relocated, and nearby Gregory-Portland saw their student body swell from 5,000 to 7,000 students this school year.
Still, hundreds of students are not enrolled as their families struggle to recover from the storm’s damage.
Aransas Pass suffered massive amounts of destruction, and Superintendent Mark Kemp said the district sustained $8 million in damages. Winds destroyed the football stadium’s press box, threw school signs through school windows, and swallowed outdoor bleachers. School officials are still looking for their bleachers.
The worst damage to the district occurred at A.C. Blunt Middle School, which isn’t expected to open until November at the earliest. In a true sign of force, Harvey ripped ten-ton HVAC systems off the school’s roof and left enormous holes, exposing the interior to heavy rainfall and water damage.
Kemp has made certain that his district continues to pay employees through the crisis. He estimates about 400 students have relocated to other districts, and some teachers have relocated with them. He is hopeful most of them will return when school starts back on October 16.
As residents along the Gulf Coast come together to rebuild, state and federal officials are working hard to find solutions, and they are determined to help students find a new district. With only three weeks left in hurricane season, let’s keep our fingers crossed that Harvey was the last.