‘More needs to be done’ | Austin ISD, education organizations co-sign letter to the State asking for funding flexibility


The letter was sent on Monday to the Texas Education Agency.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin ISD, Education Austin, Austin Association of Public School Administrators, and Austin Council of PTAs Executive Council co-signed a letter for the Texas Education Agency Monday asking for flexibility throughout the rest of the pandemic and the continuation of the Hold Harmless Agreement.

“It is here we can more accurately evaluate and address the needs of our entire school community. As one of the over 1,022 ISDs in Texas, we are entrusted to make countless decisions to meet the safety and educational needs of our students, faculties, and their families every day. Education is our job, but safety and well-being are our responsibility,” the letter states.

NEW: @AustinISD, @EdAustin_TX, @AustinPTA, and ATX Assoc. of Public School Administrators co-sign letter sent to @teainfo asking for ‘increased flexibility for the remainder of this pandemic.’ (thread) @KVUE pic.twitter.com/crDnmaUKal

— Mari Salazar (@MariSalazarTV) January 12, 2021

Texas Education Agency’s Hold Harmless Agreement was instated to protect school districts from losing state funding because of low enrollment numbers due to the pandemic.

At the beginning of January, TEA reports it conudcted an intermediary data collection to better understand enrollment trends in Texas public schools year-over-year. 

“While overall, 3% fewer students are enrolled in public education in Texas so far this school year (SY 2020-21), the majority of that reduction is represented by early education, prekindergarten, and kindergarten, which are optional enrollment grades. Enrollment in grades for which school attendance is mandatory (grades 1-12) has dropped by 1%,” the TEA said in a statement. 

The TEA said, as of October 2020, 54% of Texas public schools were learning on campus. On-campus learning increased by more than 700,000 students from the end of September 2020 to the end of October 2020, according to their statement from Jan. 8.

There’s no information regarding if the agreement extends through the spring 2021 semester.

This letter from AISD and other local education organizations was sent to the Texas Education Agency on Monday. On Tuesday, Austin-Travis County officials said positivity rates in school-aged kids are “concerning.” In Travis County, from Jan. 2 to Jan. 9, Escott explained middle school kids had an “all-time high” percentage of COVID-19 positive cases.

In Travis County high schools, Austin Public Health reports a 20.2% positivity rate, the middle school positivity rate is 27.1%, elementary school positivity rate is 19.8%, and the preschool rate is 10%.

“All of our school-aged groups are outpacing the community positivity rates,” said Austin’s top doctor, Dr. Mark Escott. 

Austin ISD is encouraging parents to keep their kids learning from home, if possible, but the school district can not make that mandatory. The reason AISD can’t make that mandatory is that the Texas Education Agency requires on-campus learning at all times, specifically for students that don’t have internet access. 

Travis County schools #COVID19 cases (Jan. 4-Jan. 10):

Teachers ➡️ 102
Students ➡️ 187
Other ➡️ 3
TOTAL ➡️ 292

Clusters have been traced back to basketball & buses/carpools, according to @AusPublicHealth. @KVUE pic.twitter.com/HNwY8z9vy6

— Mari Salazar (@MariSalazarTV) January 12, 2021

“If you can choose virtual, now is the time to choose virtual so we can protect our school infrastructure, we can protect our educators,” said Escott on Tuesday. 

Escott explained that coronavirus clusters in schools have been traced back to extracurriculars, specifically basketball, and also buses and carpools. 

“As we understand TEA’s responsibility to fund schools on a statewide level, we want to recognize that keeping our children, faculties and community safe is best served on a local level,” said the letter sent to the TEA. “We ask TEA to extend the hold harmless provision and allow districts local decision-making power during this unprecedented crisis. I think we all agree that the health and well-being of the children in our community is the number one priority in our state and preserving the health and safety of the professionals and educational supporters who stepped up, and continue to step up every day, to work to meet the intellectual, emotional, and social needs of our children is part of making that priority a reality.”

The following letter, signed by 82 members of the Texas House, was sent to Commissioner Mike Morath last Friday, urging him to extend the Hold Harmless to assure full funding to all school districts through the remainder of the school year. pic.twitter.com/1dOPD0659k

— State Representative Steve Allison (@stevefortx) December 21, 2020

In December, 82 Texas lawmakers sent a similar letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath.

AISD said the recommendation to learn from home could extend into next week, as they monitor the public health condition with health officials. 

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