Texas schools won’t lose state funding this academic year for coronavirus attendance declines

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Students in Mrs. Cazares’ third-grade class on the first day of in-person classes at Highland Village Elementary. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

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Texas will fully fund school districts that have seen student attendance drop during the pandemic, as long as they maintain or increase the rate of students learning in person, Gov. Greg Abbott and state education officials announced Thursday.

School superintendents have been awaiting the news for months, with the pandemic and switch to virtual learning causing student enrollment and attendance to drop by more than 150,000 statewide between January 2019 and 2021. Texas funds its public schools based on the number of students who attend, whether they are learning in person or virtually.

As of this January, 56% of Texas public school students were learning in person.

"As more districts return to in-person instruction, we are ensuring that schools are not financially penalized for declines in attendance due to COVID-19," Abbott said in the release. "Providing a hold harmless for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year is a crucial part of our state's commitment to supporting our school systems and teachers and getting more students back in the classroom."

School districts will be funded based on the number of students who attended before the pandemic, according to the release. It is not yet clear whether state or federal money will be used to pay for the cost, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told school superintendents on a call Thursday.

The announcement follows two other big developments this week that will impact Texas public education: School staff are now eligible for vaccines, and school boards can opt out of requiring masks on campuses.