Category Archives: Hurricane Harvey

Public Education committee looks at A-F implementation

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday for an interim hearing on the implementation of school finance, accountability, and bullying legislation, in addition to an update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez kicked off testimony with an update on money given out as part of a two-year hardship grant program under House Bill (HB) 21, as well as additional facilities funding for charter schools. Associate Commissioner Monica Martinez provided a briefing on new autism and dyslexia grant programs under the bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) noted that the hardship grants as well as the autism and dyslexia grant programs will expire without additional legislation. Additionally, the bill contained a one-time payment into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

House Public Education Committee interim hearing April 18, 2018.

A representative from Houston ISD testified that the district faces a $150 budget deficit this year and a projected $320 million deficit in the next fiscal year due to the district entering recapture. The district submitted a number of recommendations, including increasing funding weights for bilingual, English as a second language (ESL), and special education students, restoring the state’s share of funding to 50 percent, increasing transportation funding, and doing away with the recapture system.

A number of witnesses testified with respect to the hardship grants, warning that some small districts could face closure without further action to extend the grants or create an alternative source of revenue.

Lopez next updated the committee on the implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 179, or “David’s Law,” which addresses bullying and cyberbullying. The law requires TEA to work with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop a website with resources for school districts. Huberty noted that more work must be done to inform districts, students, and parents of the various provisions of the new law.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath provided another update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system. A total of 60 counties fell under the governor’s disaster proclamation, and 1.5 million students were in an affected school district. Morath noted that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been an important source of long-term recovery funds, the agency has been slow in making funds available.

The agency has launched a variety of mental health services, and provided accountability flexibility to affected districts. This includes waivers from 5th and 8th grade math and reading exams for all students affected by the storm. At the school and district level, the agency collected information regarding full and partial facility closures or relocations, student displacement, and staff displacement. According to Morath, at least 112,000 students were displaced statewide. Those three sets of data will be used to develop a rule to determine whether an accountability rating is issued to a particular school. Morath indicated a proposed rule will be published in the Texas Register sometime in early June, and the number of exempt schools could number over a thousand.

Morath suggested the final rule for Harvey-affected schools will be “substantially more generous” than the rule developed following Hurricane Ike in 2008. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) told Morath she would like to see a rule that provides for entire districts to be exempt from accountability ratings as well, though Morath offered no indication whether the agency is inclined to move in that direction. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) asked TEA to help develop recommendations for additional revenue sources for public education. Chairman Huberty warned TEA to leave that work to legislators.

The storm caused some $970 million worth of damage to public schools. Morath estimated lawmakers would be faced with the need to pass a supplemental appropriation to cover an associated decline in maintenance and operations (M&O) property values of roughly $500 million to $1 billion.

Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones testified about the storm’s devastating impact on the state’s largest school district, and the associated financial difficulties. The district asked for a one-year accountability pause, such as was provided after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, for all schools in a county that fell under the governor’s disaster declaration. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) asked how the district’s ten worst-performing schools were impacted, all of which are labeled “improvement required” under the current state accountability system and face imminent sanctions. The district indicated those schools sustained damage as well, and contended that a pause would not prevent those schools from being subject to potential TEA takeover, since a decision on each of those schools is required by April 24.

Finally, the committee heard testimony on HB 22, which made changes to the forthcoming “A through F” accountability system. TEA released a framework of the new system last week. Morath summarized that framework, and testified that cut points are being based upon last year’s performance and will be set for the next five years. District A-F ratings will be released in August, while individual campuses will continue to be labeled “met standard” or “improvement required.” Campus A-F ratings will be released in August 2019.

Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that the local accountability system provided by HB 22 could be promising. Under the first domain, Chambers suggested changing the weights for STAAR; college, career, and military readiness (CCMR); and graduation rates from 40/40/20 under the current framework to a more even 33/33/33 or 35/35/30. Chambers also lamented the lack of indicators other than STAAR for grades three through eight under the new system, which represents a regression from the previous system.

Chambers asked that a greater weight under the CCMR indicator be given to students who complete a concurrent sequence of career and technical education (CTE) courses. Critically, Chambers cautioned that policymakers will be disappointed with the results of any accountability system until resources are aligned with what is asked of students and schools.

Spring Branch ISD Executive Director of Accountability and Research Keith Haffey similarly testified to the complete reliance on STAAR at the elementary level, and suggested considering additional metrics. One such metric could credit schools that fully transition English language learners (ELLs) to English. Additionally, one of the flaws of the new system is that the scoring limits credit given to students who take college pathway assessments such as the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, which acts as a disincentive for districts to offer these valuable exams. Huberty engaged Morath and Chambers in a conversation regarding the feasibility of providing a state appropriation to cover the cost of providing these assessments.

Dee Carney, an associate with school finance firm Moak, Casey and Associates, introduced model runs under the new accountability system. According to the models, most schools are unlikely to earn an “A” rating under the first domain. Carney testified that the additional of non-test indicators helps raise scores. The remainder of the day’s testimony largely focused on the system’s heavy reliance on the STAAR test.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 13, 2018

The weekend is here! Catch up on this week’s education news from ATPE:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in Austin this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was there to cover it all. He has a series of posts up on the blog reporting on outcomes of the board’s week-long agenda. Here is a quick wrap-up, with links to the extended posts:

The board is scheduled to meet again this summer.

 


During his address to the SBOE on Wednesday, Commissioner Morath gave some potential insight into how the state will address accountability for school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. In light of significant student displacement, delayed starts to the school year, and various other Harvey-related struggles impacting a number of school districts this year, superintendents and others in Harvey-affected districts have called on the Commissioner to offer accountability relief from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). While the Commissioner initially argued such a move was not likely because teachers and students needed to be held accountable for their learning (he also refused to delay test dates for Harvey-affected students, despite requests), his tune changed slightly this week. He this time told members of the board that he will consider waiving STAAR scores in Harvey-affected districts. Learn more about the Commissioner’s announcement in this piece from the Texas Tribune.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a framework for the new accountability system this week. The system was most recently revised by the 85th Texas Legislature under House Bill (HB) 22; initial adoption of an A-F accountability system was passed during the previous legislative session in 2015. The system is broken down into three domains that are focused on student achievement, school progress, and closing the gaps. Schools and districts will receive an individual A, B, C, D, or F score for each domain as well as a summative score based on a compilation of all three domains. Learn more about the framework in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 

 

 


 

House panel weighs Harvey accountability fixes

ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, November 14, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning, Nov. 14, in Austin to hear from educators about the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the public school accountability system, including testimony from ATPE member Paula Franklin from Pasadena. The hearing focused on the following interim charges set by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) gaveled the committee together Tuesday to hear from teachers, administrators and state agency staff. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that a survey of school districts showed roughly two-to-one in favor of keeping the current test administration dates unchanged. Morath suggested waiving tests altogether would violate both state and federal laws, and would hinder the ability to track student performance. The commissioner indicated a decision whether to delay the testing schedule would be forthcoming within the next two weeks.

Morath listed a number of disruptions experienced by students affected by the storm, including displacement and homelessness, instructional setting disruption, and disruption of staff. The commissioner suggested these three categories of disruption will be factored into decisions how to address accountability in individual affected districts, which could be modified through the agency’s rulemaking authority.

“Is this the most effective way to help kids? Or is there a more effective way?” asked state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), noting impacted students and staff are already under enough stress before factoring in test-based accountability.

Morath suggested a one-year accountability waiver for affected districts could jeopardize federal funding, which accounts for roughly ten percent of the state’s overall public education budget. The percent of federal dollars directly tied to testing is in fact much less than that. Rep. Koop pointed out TEA issued a “non-rating” for West ISD after a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the Central Texas town. While acknowledging this precedent, Morath warned such measures could delay state interventions for districts with failing campuses. Chairman Huberty requested Morath formally ask for a federal testing waiver for districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

On the financial side, Chairman Huberty voiced complaints raised by districts that have still not received replacements for textbooks lost in the storm. State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) chided the agency for not being a more proactive advocate for such districts. The agency set up a portal to allow other districts to donate textbooks, but some districts continue to wait for needed instructional materials. Morath testified this is a cash flow issue, which the agency doesn’t have the authority to adjust. At the chairman’s request, the commissioner agreed to poll districts on outstanding needs and explore ways to provide a one-time purchase.

The commissioner testified that the agency does not have the authority to order automatic reappraisal of property values in districts affected by the storm, but indicated that the state could shoulder the cost of reappraisals. Whether such a reappraisal would be beneficial appears to vary from district to district. Finally, Chairman Huberty requested TEA keep tabs on facilities damage not covered by insurance and FEMA for the purpose of submitting a supplemental appropriations request for the 86th Texas Legislature.

Considering the level of trauma caused by the storm, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers suggested that testing in affected districts may not necessarily yield useful data. Chambers testified that whether or not assessments are waived, the agency should think twice about how that data is used, in particular with regard to accountability in the short term.

“Right now we’re dealing with issues that accountability doesn’t have the capacity to account for,” said Chambers.

Galveston ISD Special Education Instructional Specialist and ATPE member Paula Franklin shared her own community’s experience before the committee. Franklin described the catastrophic damage to teachers’ homes caused by the storm, and testified that some teachers are putting off needed repairs over fears of missing class and the negative consequences of the state accountability system. Additionally, Franklin suggested that districts would be unlikely to risk federal dollars under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are untethered to testing requirements, and would likely be safe in the event of a dispute between the state and federal government over accountability.

While noting that some tests continue to serve a purpose, panelists overwhelmingly voiced concerns over the negative consequences of holding students impacted by the storm to the same accountability standards as those who were unaffected. Chambers pointed out that the issue is compounded by the fact that administrators are already dealing with the rollout of a complex new “A through F” accountability system, and suggested the state consider potential accommodations on a year by year basis. Chambers emphasized, “I just think the stakes are too high.”

Chairman Huberty pointed out there is already precedent for holding certain districts harmless from state accountability ratings from 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. He suggested the precedent will likely be cited in a letter from the committee addressed to TEA in the next few weeks. Chairman Huberty indicated that the committee’s next interim hearing will be in the first quarter of 2018.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 10, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in Austin this week for its November meeting, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has all you need to know in a series of posts covering the four-day agenda. The board began its week on Tuesday with a review of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), an update from Commissioner Mike Morath, and work sessions on school finance and new textbooks. Board members met again on Wednesday to act on a lengthy agenda, which included the rejection of a Mexican-American studies textbook that was up for consideration as an addition to the list of approved instructional materials. Wiggins reports more on the board’s first two days here.

On Thursday, committees of the board met to consider a variety of issues, including making a final determination on rules adopted by SBEC, and the full board convened again today to make final decisions on most of the above.

As the board wraps up its regular meetings for 2017, attention turns to a series of regional meetings scheduled from November through February. The meetings will focus on collecting feedback as the board prepares to update its Long-Range Plan for Education. The next meeting will be held on Tuesday in Kilgore. More on the purpose of the meetings and meeting schedule can be found in this post highlighting a Texas Education Agency (TEA) press release on the topic.

 


As the Texas legislature works to assess the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on state infrastructure, spending, and policies, Senate and House education committees continue a series of committee hearings focused on the storm’s hit to public education. On Monday, the Senate Education Committee met in Houston to hear from affected districts, educational service centers, and other stakeholders. Committee members also heard from Commissioner Mike Morath who shared TEA’s response and supports related to the hurricane. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the hearing and offers an overview of the discussion here.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee will meet for its second hearing on the topic, this time to hear from teachers and other stakeholders on the following Harvey-specific interim charges issued by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

The House committee will meet on Tuesday at 8:00am in the Texas Capitol. Tune in live or catch an archived video of the hearing here.

 



Tuesday was Election Day in Texas and the rest of the country. In addition to approving all seven of the constitutional amendments proposed on the ballot, many Texans went to the polls to approve a number of local ISD bond proposals. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has a analysis of these elections and a few other education-related proposals here.

Disappointing voter turnout on Election Day yielded the second lowest participation rate in 40 years; only 5.8% of eligible voters headed to the polls. Texans must do better as we head toward the March primaries, which decide the vast majority of Texas’s local, state, and federal officeholders. Are you registered to vote? Have you taken the Texas Educators Vote oath? Is your district one that has committed to creating a culture of voting? Important elections are just around the corner and your voice needs to be heard. Prepare to vote in March and learn more by visiting the Texas Educators Vote website and following them on Twitter.

 

Senators hear from commissioner, Houston education stakeholders on hurricane impact

The Texas Senate Education Committee met yesterday, Nov. 6, on the University of Houston campus to address interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey and hear from area education stakeholders on the effects of the devastating storm. Senators heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and representatives of school districts and charter schools, education service centers, and property tax appraisal districts.

The committee met to address two interim charges aimed at assessing the impact of Hurricane Harvey on school finance and better understanding needs related to the recovery efforts currently underway. Commissioner Morath presented information on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the storm and general data regarding its impact to affected schools and districts. The presentation included widely discussed statistics: 1.4 million students were directly impacted by the storm; another half a million were at schools impacted by the storm; all school districts have now reopened to varying degrees and did so on varying timelines; and over 100 school facilities were converted to shelters.

The Commissioner also discussed the effect of the storm on districts’ budgets and mentioned the agency’s efforts with regard to the Hurricane Harvey Task Force on School Mental Health Supports. Topics of discussion regarding budget impacts and next steps included: the strain placed on districts due to the lag in FEMA reimbursements from the federal government; the impact to districts without property reappraisal; the trouble faced by districts that don’t qualify for comprehensive facility insurance coverage; and the fact that six districts have requested an advance of funding due to costs related to higher enrollment.

The invited stakeholders who followed the Commissioner went into greater and more personal detail on the issues raised by the commissioner. For example, Aransas Pass ISD, which is among the most impacted of districts, still hasn’t accounted for approximately 300 of its students and is still working toward a path forward for the extreme damage suffered by its facilities. The district, like many affected districts, has altered the minutes in each school day to accommodate for the missed class time after the storm. It is also in the process of developing a plan to address an expected funding gap caused by a slow lag time in FEMA reimbursement and an uncertainty with regard to state gap or additional funding. The district superintendent testified that the plan could include a loss of 14 teachers and additional staff.

Most of the superintendents present at Monday’s hearing requested a “hold harmless” measure on accountability for schools and students affected by the storm, highlighting the extreme distress their students and communities are already under. The commissioner and Chairman Larry Taylor seemed less inclined to grant the waiver. Commissioner Morath reported that 140 affected-districts (a majority of those impacted) said testing schedules should not be changed due to Hurricane Harvey, and Chairman Taylor maintained that accountability exists for a reason; Taylor said he didn’t know what districts would do if they were told accountability was waived, saying, for example, that while the vast majority of teachers are in it for the right reasons, some may take it as an opportunity to not teach.

Committees are expected to make recommendations for the next legislature on interim charges issued by the lieutenant governor. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more from the committee on Hurricane Harvey related topics and other interim charges.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 20, 2017

Here’s this week’s wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


ThinkstockPhotos-99674144The Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing in two weeks to consider and make recommendations on responses to issues facing Texas public schools as a result of Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters. The hearing will be held at the University of Houston on Monday, Nov. 6, at 10 am, and will focus on (1) changes to the Texas Education Code to improve recovery efforts and (2) adjustments to school finance calculations or laws that might better address issues resulting from student displacement.

Last week the House Public Education Committee held its own hearing to address Hurricane Harvey, and several other committees in both the House and Senate have conducted related hearings. Senate Education Committee meetings are typically webcast live here. Check back for more on this hearing and other Harvey related updates in the coming weeks.

 


Early vote pic from EANext week begins the early voting window for the Nov. 7 election, featuring proposed constitutional amendments and other local ballot measures. ATPE has published a number of voting resources to help you prepare for the upcoming election, along with the critical primary elections that will be taking place in Texas in March 2018. Check it out in our post for the ATPE blog here.

 


ATPE's Gary Godsey, Jennifer Canaday, Byron Hildebrand, and Carl Garner at CIEA 2017

ATPE’s Gary Godsey, Jennifer Canaday, Byron Hildebrand, and Carl Garner at CIEA 2017

This week, ATPE representatives attended the annual conference of the Coalition of Independent Education Associations (CIEA). The annual event, which was held in Nashville, Tennessee this year, brings together staff members and volunteer leaders from non-union-affiliated educator associations around the country. Conference attendees have opportunities to network and share ideas about topics such as membership recruitment and services, legal and legislative advocacy, and best practices for marketing and communications.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday were presenters at the conference, joined by ATPE State President Carl Garner and ATPE State Vice President Byron Hildebrand.

 



Retirement planning written on a notepad.Texans for Secure Retirement (TSR) held its fourth annual symposium on Texas pension plans this week. ATPE has been a member of the TSR coalition and has held a seat on the TSR board as one of the primary advocates for maintaining the health of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). TRS is the state’s largest defined-benefit pension plan.

The symposium was held in Austin on Thursday, Oct. 19, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended and provided this summary. The event kicked off with pension consultant Ronnie Jung, former TRS executive director, and investment professional Will Harrell of Robert Harrell, Inc. discussing how to effectively evaluate pension plans.

Next former House Pensions Committee Chairwoman Vicki Truitt moderated a panel that included current state representatives and members of the House Pensions committee Roberto Alonzo and Justin Rodriguez, as well as Houston City Controller Chris Brown. The three of them talked about state and local political issues surrounding the operations and funding of the state’s many public pension systems.

The third presentation was by Phillip Ashley from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts on an innovative approach to funding pension plans using the earning potential of the state’s rainy day fund.

Finally Maura Powers of the American Federation and State, County, and Municipal Employees and Angela Melina-Raab a former adjunct professor of ERISA law at U.T. School of Law spoke about legislation that is being pushed in 26 states and was filed in Texas during the 85th regular session to provide a state-run pension-style plan for private sector employees.

You can watch archived footage of the event at https://www.facebook.com/texansr.org/

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 13, 2017

Here’s your “Friday the 13th” edition of our weekly education news highlights from ATPE:


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath exercised his authority this week to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins details the adjustment and eligibility requirements, including the list of more than 150 districts affected by the storm.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also released guidance this week regarding transportation in the wake of the storm. In some cases, districts may be required to provide transportation between districts. The agency guidance indicates that these costs may be covered by Foundation School Program (FSP) funds.


On Thursday, the House Public Education Committee met to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to study the costs of the storm, and look at ways to provide assistance. The committee charged with overseeing public education policy convened for a day-long meeting, and took testimony from Education Commissioner Mike Morath and several superintendents from affected districts.

The committee discussed ways to provide both short-term and long-term relief for districts, and vowed to look at ramifications for the state school accountability system in the coming weeks. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins recaps the committee’s work this week.


The 2017 legislative session saw the lengths to which some in the Texas Capitol are willing to go in order to weaken the teaching profession. At the same time, it showed the power Texas educators can wield when we work together to defend our students and public schools. The March 2018 primary and November 2018 general elections will be prime opportunities for educators to show up and make our voices count. This is why ATPE has partnered with other public education supporters through Texas Educators Vote to make teachers the biggest voice in 2018.

The idea is simple: If 100% of educators vote, we can change the outcome of elections. The people you elect decide:

  • How much to fund public schools
  • How much time, money, and attention is spent on standardized testing
  • Whether to support or undermine public education
  • Whether to privatize education in Texas

Visit the Texas Educators Vote website today and sign the oath that you will vote in the March primary AND the general election in November. Texas is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to the percentage of registered voters who actually show up to vote. Teachers can change that. Educators of all political stripes are coming together through Facebook groups like Texans for Public Education and organizations such as Friends of Texas Public Schools. Together, we can make a difference!

 

 

 


Your ATPE Governmental Relations staff is on the road again this weekend visiting regions that have requested a speaker to provide a Capitol update. Staff will be attending meetings in Region 4 and Region 16, with more visits on the calendar. There’s plenty to talk about, so be on the lookout for a region meeting near you!


 

House Public Education hears Harvey costs

The House Public Education Committee met Thursday in Austin to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. In the wake of the disastrous hurricane that wrecked Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to investigate the costs and potential actions the state could take to aid recovery efforts.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting October 12, 2017.

“We need to understand what you need,” Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) told superintendents preparing to testify at Monday’s meeting. As of today, all but two of the school districts affected by the storm have reopened, but Port Aransas ISD and Aransas Pass ISD remain closed.

The committee first heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. Nine districts closed for four weeks or more as a result of the storm, which affected some 1.4 million students. More than 100 schools became emergency shelters during the storm, and the commissioner credited educators with countless “acts of heroism” that saved thousands of lives.

“I think we can all be proud of educators in Texas,” Morath told the committee.

Morath detailed the agency’s efforts to aid district, including creating a website that operates similar to a “wedding registry.” Impacted districts can list needed supplies, such as instructional materials, which can be viewed by other districts interested in making donations.

Four districts have applied for accelerated funding as a result of increased enrollment due to students transferring from storm-affected districts. Morath explained that this is a cash-flow issue which will not have a negative impact on the state budget. However the commissioner has exercised emergency authority to hold districts losing students harmless from funding losses. The measure is expected to cost $250 million in additional state funding, along with $150 million in waived recapture payments, for a total cost of $400 million.

The commissioner noted that lagging appraisals mean affected homeowners are still scheduled to pay the same property taxes this year as if the storm had never occurred, and will not see any reduction in property values until next year. Notwithstanding that, property tax collections could decrease if homeowners abandon or sell their homes. This could have a negative impact on the ability of districts to cover existing bond payments.

Districts receive state formula funding based on expected property tax revenues, which means a rapid decline in actual collections will result in less funding than budgeted. Districts will be able to request reappraisal of property values in order to offset these losses through higher state aid or lower recapture payments, but there will be a lag until the 2018-2019 school year. Chairman Huberty pressed TEA to run reappraisals for all affected districts, which Commissioner Morath agreed to try and provide within the next few weeks.

Chapter 42 districts, which serve 74 percent of students affected by the storm, can only receive additional funding if the commissioner declares there will be a surplus in foundation school program (FSP) funds at the end of the fiscal biennium. Morath cautioned this could create a significant supplemental appropriation requirement when the 86th Texas Legislature meets in January 2019, and suggested TEA could be in a position to determine the existence of any actual surplus in six months. The dilemma sparked earnest discussion among committee members who fought to pass legislation in 2017 to reform the school finance system.

“We’re going to have to have a meaningful conversation sooner, rather than later,” said Huberty.

The state also anticipates spending an additional $266 million as students made homeless by the storm qualify for new categories of weighted funding that the state is obligated to cover. This includes additional enrollment in programs for which homelessness is a qualifying factor, such as pre-Kindergarten.

Morath noted some educator candidates faced State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) paperwork deadlines during the storm, and lamented that he did not have authority to provide waivers or exemptions from SBEC requirements.

Following the commissioner, five panels of school superintendents testified regarding the costs incurred by their individual districts. Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Charles Dupre said more than 1,000 students remain displaced by the storm, and has had many students enroll from other districts. The district already faces $16 million in losses, including $8.5 million for a single school that did not have flood insurance, and will have to dip into its reserves to cover this cost.

Houston ISD Chief Financial Officer Dr. Rene Barajas said more than 200 campuses were impacted by the hurricane, 75 of which were severely damaged. Six elementary schools remain unopened, affecting some 5,000 children. Some of those campuses could require full replacement. Dr. Barajas called $78 million “a very conservative estimate” for the district’s total cost. Barajas suggested the state keep property values frozen for the next two years in order to protect formula funding for Houston and other Chapter 41 districts. According to Dr. Barajas, the district anticipates reappraising property values would have a negative budget impact.

Chairman Huberty also pressed TEA to assist children who newly qualified for free lunches. The committee did not address how the storm may affect school accountability scores, and whether certain state assessments should be delayed. The chairman suggested the committee is prepared to consider accountability at a future meeting in the next two to three weeks.

TEA approves ADA adjustments for Harvey districts

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Monday that Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has exercised his authority to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

“Many of our school systems have seen major disruptions in their communities because of Hurricane Harvey,” said Commissioner Morath. “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.”

“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,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement provided by TEA. “I commend Commissioner Morath and the Texas Education Agency for their efforts to get our students back on track and helping ease the burdens on school districts impacted by the storm. We will continue to work diligently to limit disruption in education while our schools and communities continue to recover and rebuild.”

Under the current school finance system, ADA is a critical component used to determine the level of state funding to which each district is entitled. Many districts lost students as a result of widespread displacement caused by the storm. The resulting decline in ADA means these districts would likely face the loss of state funding or increased recapture rates. The adjustment authorized by Commissioner Morath is intended to prevent major decreases in state funding to these districts during the 2017-2018 school year.

This one-time adjustment applies to eligible districts within the 60 counties listed under Governor Abbott’s state disaster declaration. Eligible districts and charter schools within the Harvey disaster zone must also meet the following criteria:

  • The school district or charter school has had damage to at least one campus which has resulted in a disruption of instruction lasting two or more weeks, OR
  • The school district or charter school had instructional facilities that were closed for the nine or 10 hurricane related waiver days; AND
  • The school district or charter school must complete the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas Worksheet by Oct. 27, 2017.

Additional factors will be considered on a case-by-case basis. In September, the agency promised districts and charters would continue to receive full payments based on their individual Legislative Payment Estimates (LPE). Under the adjustment, according to the TEA, “The commissioner will hold affected districts and charters harmless to a projected ADA number calculated using a three-year average trend from the 2014–2015 through 2016–2017 school years, unless this projection is both 15% higher and 100 ADA higher than the 2017-2018 LPE projections. In the latter case, 2017-2018 LPE will be used.  This calculation is included in the attached spreadsheet.”

“The Texas House wants to make sure that schools are not punished for enrollment declines caused by Harvey,” said Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). “This decision will provide funding certainty for schools as they continue to cope with Harvey’s aftermath and as legislators look closely at other ways the storm affected public education. I want to thank Commissioner Morath for listening to the concerns raised by House members on behalf of their constituents.”

The agency also released a full list of school districts affected by the hurricane. On the same day, the agency announced additional funding to help provide transportation for students displaced by the storm. More information regarding ADA adjustments can be found on the TEA website. The commissioner has also authorized waivers for missed schools days as a result of Harvey.

House weighs Harvey’s cost to government, schools

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 2, 2017 at the University of Houston.

The House Appropriations Committee met Monday at the University of Houston to discuss the state’s response to Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Southeast Texas and the Coastal Bend in August. The hearing was held in response to interim charges relating to the storm announced by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

Committee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Richmond) opened the meeting with a moment of silence for victims of the deadly mass shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas. Houston was the site of Hurricane Harvey’s second landfall, and saw billions of dollars of damage to homes and infrastructure. The storm first came ashore near Corpus Christi, and Chairman Zerwas announced that the committee would hold future hearings in the Coastal Bend as well.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

House Appropriations Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) convenes hearing on Hurricane Harvey response October 2, 2017.

Chairman Zerwas said legislature may need to act to ensure that infrastructure is strong and is rebuilt quickly in the wake of the storm.  When it comes to using the state’s rainy day fund, Zerwas said, “I can’t think of any other type of event” that would be as well qualified for tapping the $11 billion account. The chairman qualified his remarks by adding that before taking action, lawmakers must know what expenses the state will be responsible for and how to leverage federal funds.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner was the first local official to testify before the committee. Turner noted that 27 trillion gallons of water fell on the region, and congratulated first responders for doing an “exemplary job” during and immediately following the hurricane. Turner called the storm “indiscriminate,” and announced he has tapped retired Shell president Marvin E. Odum as the city’s chief recovery officer.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Houston’s top two priorities are debris removal and housing. On housing, Turner said his administration is particularly sensitive to seniors, people will special needs and low-income communities. The mayor testified thousands of people are still living in damaged homes that are in need of assistance.

Turner, who served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee before running for Houston mayor, walked the committee through a detailed breakdown of the city’s costs. The city has received a 90/10 federal match for the cost of debris removal. With the total for debris removal estimated at around $260 million, the city’s share will total roughly $26 million. Working at an “aggressive” pace, the first of three debris removal passes is estimated to be completed within the next couple of weeks. The federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost of emergency and first responder services for the 60 days following the storm, after which the split will also be 90/10. The same match will apply to costs associated with parks and public spaces.

Houston carries a $100 million insurance policy for damage to buildings. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused the city to file a record $33 million claim. The claim for Hurricane Harvey is anticipated to be north of $175 million.

“The insurance is gone,” said Turner. The city is responsible for a $15 million deductible under its current policy, and will need $10 million to reinsure buildings against another hurricane. Turner explained that these costs, added to the city’s $26 million share for debris removal, were covered by $50 million in state funds unlocked by Governor Greg Abbott on Friday.

“I appreciate what the governor did, and I want to thank him,” said Turner, who added that the funds will prevent the need to ask for a local tax rate hike. Turner warned that other federal matches will still incur local costs, and the city must earnestly pursue costly flood mitigation projects to prevent further catastrophe.

Among those are three bayou projects that are shovel ready and awaiting federal money, which Turner testified could have saved thousands of homes. Other projects include $311 million to expand bayou capacity, $400 million for a reservoir in West Houston and a number of detention basins, including a $25-$30 million project to convert an unused golf course into a reservoir capable of holding more water than the Astrodome. Experts have long warned that a hurricane hitting Galveston Bay could wipe out the Port of Houston, and Turner suggested spending $12 billion for the “Ike Dike” or coastal spine would be a frugal investment compared to Hurricane Harvey’s $180 billion estimated cost.

The city has already exhausted its own $20 million economic stabilization fund. Turner emphasized that until money from the state rainy day fund is made available, state agencies should waive administrative fees for federal funds. In addition, Turner suggested lawmakers could tap state Fund 5000. A portion of the dedicated fund’s revenue comes from solid waste disposal and tipping fees, and the mayor argued $133 million from the fund could be made available for recovery efforts in Houston.

Concluding his remarks, Turner emphasized the role of Houston as the state’s economic heart. Urging lawmakers to consider ways to assist, Turner cautioned, “If you stop the engine of this city, you will stop the movement of this state.”

Up next, Harris County Judge Ed Emmitt called attention to the 2.5 million county residents outside of Houston proper. The county costs include $110 million for debris removal. The hurricane damaged 55 county buildings, 19 of which cannot be reopened. The county’s criminal justice center is among the buildings unable to be reopened, which altogether present the county with a $220 million loss. County workers must inspect 190 roads and bridges, as well as 900 traffic signals, at an additional cost of $220 million.

Buyouts for destroyed homes are expected to top $6 billion dollars, and public health costs, such as mosquito spraying, will tally around $7 million. Judge Emmett said that the completion of critical flood control projects already on the books will also be in the billions, and local taxpayers will likely be asked to approve a billion dollar bond package as a result of the disaster. Emmitt concluded that the strain on local governments responsible for storm recovery illustrates the folly of recent legislation that would have made it more difficult for counties to raise property taxes.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, appointed by Gov. Abbott to chair the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, opened his remarks by reading a letter from the governor commending local, state and national leaders for their response efforts. Four weeks into the job, Sharp described the commission’s role as finding ways to cut red tape and acting as the main point of contact for coordinating the state’s response. That said, Sharp reminded the committee that individual mayors and county judges hold sole executive authority during a disaster, and the commission is limited to offering advice and facilitating their requests.

Sharp emphasized the importance of counties filing federal paperwork before spending local dollars in order to ensure that federal funds are delivered. Following its recovery work, the commission will produce a report with future recommendations. Responding to Turner’s testimony, Sharp argued that the state does not take an administrative fee from federal disaster funds. Instead, Sharp characterized the money state agencies receive as a separate disbursement from the federal government.

After Sharp, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar testified that the full cost to the state won’t be known for several more months, or possibly years. The state will be able to meet its cash flow needs, but will see a short-term loss in economic output as a result of factories and businesses being knocked out by the storm. Despite this, the state expects a subsequent bump in GDP as a result of the recovery. Regarding state procurement efforts, Hegar raised a concern with the inability of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staff to provide assurances that specific contract terms and conditions meet FEMA requirements for reimbursement. The comptroller also chided the legislature for failing to pass legislation Hegar suggested that would have invested a portion of the rainy day fund, which Hegar argued could have yielded several hundred million additional dollars for recovery efforts. Importantly, Hegar warned that public education costs could be the most significant area of exposure facing the state.

The committee also heard from top staff at the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). Commissioner Charles Smith fielded a number of pointed questions regarding staff losses, budget cuts and the rollout of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP). Commissioner Smith pushed back against criticism of the agency’s response to Harvey levied by former staff in a report by the Texas Tribune. Smith estimated a total cost to the agency of $1.3 billion.

Staff from HHSC testified that the commission is working with Texas Education Agency (TEA) to ensure additional counselors are available to go into schools to serve children displaced or affected by the storm, but could not say how many counselors are currently involved or how schools were informed of the additional resources.

Legislative Budget Board (LBB) staff briefed the committee on the state’s spending flexibility through budget execution, which Gov. Abbott had earlier suggested could be utilized to cover recovery costs without immediately tapping the rainy day fund. Funding can be transferred between executive agencies, as well as from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2018. Agencies are required to notify LBB of transfers, but do not need the board’s permission. Currently, most of the HHSC resources transferred for recovery efforts have been redirected from funds set aside for Medicaid.

With regard to the debate over administrative fees, LBB staff indicated that not all agencies receive fees in the same way. Staff volunteered to look into whether administrative fees waived by state agencies would be able to pass through to city governments or be forfeited back to the federal government. Board staff also confirmed Fund 5000 could be utilized for disaster response, and could be accessed without a legislative appropriation through a budget rider that allows the governor to utilize certain dedicated funds for disaster relief with the approval of the comptroller and LBB.

Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Chief Nim Kidd told the committee Hurricane Harvey is expected to be an $18.5 billion FEMA event. Some 845,000 individuals have registered for FEMA assistance, of which 305,000 have been processed for a current total of $857 million in FEMA funds. Like Mayor Turner, Chief Kidd listed debris removal and housing as the state’s most immediate concerns. In contrast, Chief Kidd testified that administrative fees are drawn down separately and on top of approved federal disaster funds and are used by state agencies to pay for compliance monitoring. Kidd contended that if the state were to waive administrative fees, no additional money would go to local governments and agencies would ask the legislature to pay for compliance monitoring.

The committee also heard from representatives of the Texas Military Forces and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Executive Director James Bass from TxDOT testified the state incurred about $125 million in damage to roadways alone. Bass said Texas is not in danger of having to compete with Florida, which suffered significant damage from Hurricane Irma, for federal highway dollars.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before House Appropriations Committee at the University of Houston.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath reiterated the comptroller’s warning that the public education system could face significant costs related to the hurricane. The commissioner again commended educators for “unbridled and remarkable acts of heroism” during the chaos, pointing out that many chose to go to work saving lives while their own homes were underwater. As of now, all school systems have reopened except for Port Aransas, Aransas Pass and Aransas County ISDs. Progress notwithstanding, Morath said there are still students who are unaccounted for in a formal educational setting following the storm. Truancy laws remain in place, and Morath said it’s “too soon to tell” how the storm will affect dropout rates. Many districts have extended the school day or begun offering Saturday school in order to make up missed instructional time.

Morath presented the committee with an itemized list of nine major cost centers. Initially, districts receiving students displaced by the storm would normally not see the additional funding accompanying those students until the following year. Fortunately, Morath said the agency is able to shift funding sooner in order to accommodate those districts. Second, Morath said the agency could hold harmless districts losing substantial numbers of students by adjusting the average daily attendance (ADA) for those districts at a cost of roughly $400 million.

The commissioner also highlighted the worrying fiscal impact on districts in which the local property tax base is negatively impacted by the storm. Because the school finance system is based on lagging property tax collections, Morath suggested districts may not see the full impact until 2020. Morath noted the bifurcated maintenance and operations (M&O) and interest and sinking (I&S) funding streams create additional complications, and argued action should be taken to mitigate districts’ losses.

The storm has also had a large impact on facilities. Schools will need to be repaired or replaced, and the legislature will likely be faced with a decision regarding how much to appropriate to districts that have exhausted insurance and federal funds. The storm has also caused many students to become homeless or qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The additional weighted funding carried by these categories is expected to cost the state $266 million. Newly homeless students will also qualify for pre-Kindergarten programs. Other costs associated with absorbing displaced students include additional transportation and mental health services, and districts will face costs for monitoring compliance with regard to federal emergency funds.

Responding to a question from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) regarding whether it is correct that the STAAR test will proceed without changes to the administration schedule, Morath answered, “Not entirely.” Morath explained a survey has been sent to affected districts, and indicated a decision whether to delay testing for displaced students has not yet been reached.  The commissioner also suggested affected schools labeled “improvement required” may receive a “bye” year for accountability purposes.

The House Appropriations Committee is expected to hold additional meetings to discuss the ongoing recovery. The House Public Education Committee is scheduled to meet October 12 in Austin to focus in-depth on Hurricane Harvey’s effects on the public school system.