Austin ISD risks losing $5 million in state funding if more students don’t attend final weeks of school in person

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With just seven weeks left in a school year that has been disrupted by the pandemic, Austin Independent School District Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde sent a strangely timed email to parents on Tuesday with the subject “Welcoming Students Back to School.”

“It's hard to believe we've only a few weeks left in the school year, and they are as important as the first week,” the superintendent wrote. “We’ve missed having your children in our schools.”

She highlighted teacher vaccinations and a lower COVID-19 positivity rate, while reminding parents that students have a better learning experience in person. At least one district principal sent a similar email telling parents: “Time to come back to campus.”

The push to get students back in the classroom was confusing for parents and teachers who had spent the better part of the past school year being offered flexibility to do remote learning by the district.

What the administrators didn’t mention in their emails is that the district is at risk of losing about $5 million in state funding if Austin ISD fails to increase its in-person attendance to at least 44% of its total student enrollment during the final six weeks of the school year.

Currently, about 31% of Austin ISD students are taking classes in person.

Last fall, the Texas Education Agency promised districts that because of the pandemic, it would not cut state funding because of lost enrollment this year.

In Austin, for example, there are about 5,000 fewer total students enrolled in the district this year than last year.