Tag Archives: school lunch

Food for thought: School nutrition and COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck Texas in March, one of our first concerns was how students who normally relied on the school for meals would continue to have access to nutritious food. Public school districts went above and beyond to ensure students continued receiving meals, parking at motels for meal distribution, initiating drive-thrus, and packing different foods that worked better for grab-and-go. These efforts contributed to higher costs for public school nutrition services this spring, which put a financial strain on districts’ ability to continue providing meal service to those who need it the most.

But it isn’t just the higher costs associated with out-of-school meal service that is a concern; it is also the lower numbers of students accessing meals that is straining districts. According to recent reporting by Politico, the National School Lunch Program served 28 percent fewer meals in March 2020 compared to March 2019. North East ISD estimated a $2.6 million shortfall this spring due to increased costs from serving more expensive foods for grab-and-go consumption and decreased revenue from fewer meals served. While census data is used for meal service planning purposes, districts are actually reimbursed for nutrition services based on the number of meals served and whether students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Students who purchase meals at school, or even a la carte food items, help provide extra revenue to districts that enable them to break even in their food operations.

Federal waivers provided in the spring allowed school districts to serve meals at any campus, without students present, and at no cost to all students, regardless of their eligibility for free and reduced-price meals.This flexibility has not been extended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which could inhibit districts’ ability to receive enough reimbursement to maintain operations without needing financial support from other district funds (which are also tight at the moment). Furthermore, the expectation for families to fill out and districts to process free or reduced-price meal eligibility paperwork could create an unnecessary burden for families and schools. It is expected that millions of children have become eligible for free and reduced-price meals due to the economic effects of the pandemic. Pending legislation in Congress could address meal service flexibility in schools, as well as general funding, but negotiations are currently stalled due to debates over unemployment benefits.

Schools are part of larger district systems, which are part of state systems and federal systems. These systems work together to ensure that students’ basic needs are met, such as having a nutritious meal to eat, which allows for learning to occur. When school nutrition services are strained, these basic needs can also become strained. Other benefits such as the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) have provided essential funds to families, but P-EBT does not guarantee the “square meal” nutrition of the school nutrition programs. In order for schools to continue acting in creative and courageous ways to get meals to students, more will have to be done to ensure financial stability for these programs.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 13, 2020

School closures, election news, the census, how to wash your hands – many important topics are circulating right now. Rest assured, the ATPE Governmental Relations team has your education news update.


The ever-developing impacts of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 have left many educators feeling uncertain. To help you navigate these uncharted waters, ATPE has a new FAQ page to answer your questions, including information about districts’ ability to keep staff at home and how to deal with students who may be infected. As developments occur, check ATPE’s FAQ page frequently and watch for updates here on Teach the Vote and via our Twitter account.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency due to the effects of the novel coronavirus on March 13, 2020.

During a midday news conference today, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in response to the crisis. As the number of confirmed cases in Texas continues a slow rise, many schools are implementing extended spring breaks, investigating options for online instruction, cleaning facilities, and taking other preventive measures. Some experts recommend proactive school closures to stem the spread of the virus, but recommendations have been mixed and local districts are making their own decisions.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has increasingly been in the spotlight as districts seek guidance on how to respond to the virus. In his Texas Tribune interview last Friday and in his testimony to the House Public Health committee (see 1:40:00) this week, Morath erred on the side of “local control,” leaving it up to districts to coordinate with local health authorities on how best to serve students. The commissioner added that low attendance waiver policies remain in effect and other measures could be taken to address low attendance should Gov. Abbott declares a state of public health disaster, which he did today at the press conference that Commissioner Morath also attended. Some are already urging the state to consider testing waivers, too, with STAAR assessments looming. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has set up a landing page with resources, including the latest guidance for districts that provides specific information regarding district decision-making and communication; funding questions; potential attendance waivers; special populations, and online learning.

Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before the House Public Health committee, March 10, 2020.

In addition to concerns about childcare, missed instruction and testing, and how to pay teachers, one of the biggest questions facing schools is how to feed children who rely on their schools for nutrition. As noted by Gov. Abbott during his press conference today, the state is also seeking federal waivers to help schools continue to provide meals to students who need them, even in the event of an extended closure. According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, some school districts are considering paying hourly employees to pass out food for students at a central location while others are considering options similar to food operations during the summer. Some districts already have begun operating mobile meal delivery stations for students. Another concern in light of anticipated school closures is the number of households that do not have the Internet access that would facilitate online instruction. According to Gov. Abbott, at least one private Internet provider is waiving fees to help its customers obtain access.

Elsewhere, TRS announced they are no longer taking walk-in appointments to their Austin headquarters, and numerous state legislative hearings and state capitol meetings have been postponed in an abundance of caution. In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump also held a press conference this afternoon to make a national emergency declaration, which provides additional resources for states. Flanked by executives of companies such as Walgreens and Walmart, the administration announced plans to launch a screening website and new testing resources facilitated by the private retailers. Pres. Trump also said there would be a temporary waiver of interest on student loans during the crisis. Congressional leaders are also working to negotiate legislation could potentially provide relief in the form of sick leave, tax cuts, and aid to schools.

ATPE issued a press statement today and will continue to update our online resources as additional information about dealing with COVID-19 becomes available to us.


ELECTION UPDATE: Even if you didn’t vote in the March primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, and early voting will begin May 18. Learn more about who is on the ballot and the rules regarding eligibility to vote in a runoff in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Election news continues to come out this week. Check out updates from the campaign trail here, including some big endorsements and a new Central Texas race shaping up to succeed state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). With Sen. Watson resigning next month to become dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this week appointed Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to fill his seats on the Senate Education and Senate Higher Education committees. These are committee posts Sen. Zaffirini held previously. She has taught at the higher education level and is a former chairperson of the Senate Higher Education committee.

As always, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources created especially for educators, and use our features here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates.


Money matters graphic from Villanueva’s CPPP report on HB 3

The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) released a new report this week analyzing House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance bill passed during the 2019 legislative session. The report written by Chandra Villanueva, CPPP’s Economic Opportunity Program Director, is entitled, “There’s a new school finance law in Texas… now what?” Villanueva’s report lauds the successes of HB 3, such as increased streams of funding for dual language, college and career readiness, and early education, but she argues there are aspects of the bill that could be improved to enhance equity. Villanueva stresses throughout the report that the legislature’s focus on reducing property tax collections and recapture while increasing funding commitments to school districts may hamstring future legislatures from being able to adequately fund schools. By highlighting the lack of new revenue sources to help Texas appropriators fill the gaps, the report reflects the apprehensions many educators feel about the sustainability of HB 3. The report also makes several useful policy recommendations, including full-day pre-K funding and regular adjustment of the basic allotment for inflation (which would trigger regular teacher pay raises).


In late 2019, the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM conducted a State of Teaching Survey of more than 5,000 teachers around the world. The study highlighted several findings that likely resonate with all teachers. First, teachers feel overwhelmed, undervalued, and believe they are not treated as professionals. Teachers work long hours, take work home, pay for supplies out-of-pocket, and don’t feel they have the resources (including administrator support) to adequately address factors such as student behavior. Second, and on the positive side, teachers do feel they have access to curriculum, planning time, and professional learning resources. Lastly, the role of social media is rapidly evolving as teachers increasingly rely on resources such as Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest for curriculum and professional learning. These findings underscore the importance of continuing to advocate for supportive working conditions in schools, adequate pay and benefits, and opportunities for collaboration and creativity among teachers.


Checked your mail lately? By April 1, households across America will receive an invitation to complete the 2020 Census. The census, conducted once every 10 years, counts EVERY person living in the United States. Getting a complete count will help to ensure Texans have fair representation in our state legislature and in Washington, D.C. Plus, census counts determine many important streams of funding, such as for roads, emergency services, and public education! Your response to the census is just as crucial as helping to spread the word to others. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


House Public Education Committee hears 31 bills on playgrounds, pre-K, and more

House Public Education Committee meeting, April 23, 2019

On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 31 bills relating to a variety of topics, including the use of school counselors’ time, special education evaluation notices, the role of the fine arts curriculum, and creating inclusive playgrounds that are accessible to all students.

ATPE supported several bills considered at the hearing, including:

  • House Bill (HB) 142 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would require TEA to develop a notice for distribution and internet posting that includes reporting changes for special education indicators and the rights of children to special education evaluation. Would also require districts to include additional information on the notice about initiating a referral for special education services. Rep. Moody stated that there is money set aside in the proposed state budget to accomplish the goals of his bill.
  • HB 727 (Gonzalez, M., D-Clint): Would require that school boards adopt a policy requiring school counselors to spend at least 80% of their time on core counseling duties. If the district can’t meet this requirement, the policy must include reasons why, duties the counselor will have to do, and set the actual percentage in the policy.
  • HB 1763 (Blanco, D-El Paso): Would add children of educators employed by school districts to the eligibility list for free pre-kindergarten.
  • HB 4030 (Dominguez, D-Brownsville): Would provide funding for school districts to provide at least one playground in the district that is inclusive and accessible for students with disabilities.
  • HB 4414 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would require TEA to develop a rubric for Regional Education Service Centers (ESCs) to use for identifying resources related to student mental health. ESCs would be required to use the rubric and report back to TEA. TEA would also have to create a statewide inventory of mental health resources and a statewide plan for student mental health.

During Tuesday’s hearing, ATPE also provided written testimony against HB 3623 by Rep. Matt Schaefer. The bill would affect teachers employed under continuing contracts, making them eligible to stay in their jobs only if the majority of their students meet a “minimum growth standard” to be determined by the district and approved by the Commissioner. ATPE testified that HB 3623’s reliance on an unspecified “minimum growth standard” hints at the use of value-added modeling (VAM), which has been widely criticized as a tool that improperly uses students’ standardized test scores for high-stakes purposes. ATPE also pointed out that many teachers do not teach tested subjects or grades. ATPE’s testimony also questioned what the due process protections would be for affected teachers whose students do not meet the standard. In the hearing, Rep. Schaefer faced questions from Reps. Allen, Gonzalez, and Talarico on the vagueness of what “growth” means in the bill and on the importance of other non-academic factors. Read ATPE’s written testimony on HB 3623 here.

The following bills were also heard by the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday:

  • HB 535 (Neave, D-Dallas): Would require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TAFSA), in order to graduate, with some exceptions. Rep. Neave noted that this was recommendation #27 in the Texas Commission on Public School Finance final report issued last year.
  • HB 2217 (Raymond, D-Laredo): Would provide that school boards do not have to hear complaints concerning parent participation in extracurricular activities that do not involve a violation of a right.
  • HB 2526 (Leach, R-Plano): Would enable students whose parent(s) reside within the school district to be granted automatic admission. Rep. Leach shared that this bill would fix the predicament of his constituent who had the district boundary line in her backyard.
  • HB 3005 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would open college preparatory math and English language arts courses to 11th graders who demonstrate that they would otherwise be unable to take it in their 12th grade year and complete the requirements for high school graduation. Rep. Talarico said the bill was requested by Pflugerville ISD.
  • HB 3025 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would allow districts or schools to provide parents with a facilitated meeting with the school counselor regarding accepting or declining a special education evaluation on behalf of the student, should the parent dispute the referral. Rep. Talarico said this bill was brought to him by special education advocates.
  • HB 3026 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would require that school districts with 400 or more students have a ratio of 400:1 students to behavioral health professionals (which includes school counselors, licensed specialists in school psychology, social workers, and licensed professional counselors). The bill also outlines duties of the mental health professional within the school setting.
  • HB 3153 (Raymond, D-Laredo): Would allow a nepotism exception for a teacher in a subject or geographic area certified as a critical shortage area.
  • HB 3179 (Stucky, R-Denton): Would require the Commissioner to adopt rules to allow districts to submit information in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) on the cost of assessments, including administration, participation, preparation, and training.
  • HB 3316 (White, R-Hillister): Would expand the campus crime stoppers program by adding school districts and charters to the entities that a crime stoppers organization reports to, as well as adding threats to public safety or an individual to the activities that the crime stoppers report on. This bill would also add a student advisory member to the program.
  • HB 3344 (Bucy, D-Austin): Would add fine arts to the required foundation curriculum. Rep. Bucy stated that students in fine arts have better educational outcomes.
  • HB 3452 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would require the Commissioner to evaluate all dropout recovery schools under the alternative education accountability system, and to only consider performance at the level of “approaches grade level.” The “closing the gaps” domain would be used for reporting purposes only.
  • HB 3489 (Cole, D-Austin): Would require TEA to create a task force on sex-based harassment in schools to evaluate and provide recommendations and best practices, including school district professional development.
  • HB 3651 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require the Commissioner to conduct a study on the relationship between district size, cost, and academic effectiveness.
  • HB 3851 (Lang, R-Granbury): Would require the Comptroller to publish and maintain a list of unfunded mandates and report to the legislature on findings about the benefits and costs of each mandate.
  • HB 3880 (Wilson, R-Marble Falls): Would transfer the duty to develop and provide information to students about steroids from the State Board of Education (SBOE) and TEA to the Department of State Health Services Mental Health and Substance Abuse, in conjunction with the University Interscholastic League (UIL).
  • HB 3888 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would add suicide to the conditions addressed by the school health advisory council (SHAC). Would also add require SHACs to provide strategies to increase parental awareness regarding risky behaviors, early warning signs of suicide risks, and available community programs and services to address these. The bill would require districts where at least 70% of the students are educationally disadvantaged, homeless, or in foster care to develop and implement a plan to increase parent and student knowledge of behavioral health disorders and treatment options.
  • HB 4094 (Beckley, D-Carrollton): Would require districts to make at least one attempt by phone or e-mail during each week of a student’s meal account grace period to make arrangements with the parent for payment of a negative balance and help the parent complete an application for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL). After the grace period ends, the district may allow the student to continue purchasing meals or provide alternative meals at no cost. The bill would also allow districts to pay a negative balance using donations.
  • HB 4186 (Sanford, R-McKinney): Would create the “Next Generation Commission on Digital Learning” to make recommendations for a framework for digital teaching and learning in public schools following the same structure as last year’s school finance commission.
  • HB 4302 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would prohibit issuance of subpoenas for audio/video surveillance of special education settings unless they meet under Texas Education Code (TEC) Section 29.022. Rep. VanDeaver cited a case  in which video was subpoenaed to observe the “educational record” of a student that did not involve complaints of abuse or neglect. Only cases of abuse or neglect were the focus of the original intent of the video camera law enacted in 2015.
  • HB 4313 (Dominguez, D-Brownsville): Would require the UIL to create an adaptive sports program for students with disabilities.
  • HB 4324 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would allow the Commissioners of both TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to approve a format of electronic submission of student records, such as the Texas Records Exchange (TREx), that allows for the transfer and efficient and effective extraction of data elements from student transcripts.
  • HB 4383 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would require school districts and charters to prepare a list of instructional materials provided to students that cover each Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) element. This list would be part of an existing annual certification that each district and charter school must submit to the SBOE and Commissioner.
  • HB 4578 (Gervin-Hawkins, R-San Antonio): Would require the SBOE, TEA, and stakeholders to enter into a memorandum of understanding on the development of culturally inclusive instruction.
  • HB 4589 and HJR 150 (Anchia, D-San Antonio): Would add a “global competitiveness” objective to the public education mission in the Texas Constitution by stating that students will earn a post-secondary credential after high school. This bill would also require that each legislature establish standards that public schools must satisfy and align then with the state’s “60×30” plan, which provides that by 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 will hold a certificate or degree.

At the end of Tuesday’s House Public Education Committee hearing, Chairman Huberty announced that the committee will meet again on Wednesday afternoon, April 24, to vote on pending bills that have already been heard. He added that next week the committee will meet to hear mainly Senate bills that have made their way over to the House and been referred to House Public Education. Up to this point, the committee has not yet heard any public testimony on Senate bills, so stay tuned!