HAYS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — With just weeks remaining of this semester, the Hays Consolidated Independent School District is at risk of losing millions.
The district said in-person attendance is down from 68.4% to 66.7% from a single-day estimate in October.
If Hays CISD doesn’t meet attendance requirements, it would lose $7 million in funding that pays primarily for teachers’ salaries.
This is directly related to “Hold Harmless” funding, where the Texas Education Agency requires a district to meet or exceed a benchmark attendance rate, based off attendance tracked on the random single day in October.
“Hold Harmless,” is something new put in place to maintain funding for schools during the pandemic, which is tied to attendance rates.
“When we went back and looked at how the numbers were trending in the last couple of weeks in the last six weeks, we weren’t above that number, and we thought we weren’t going to have to worry about it,” Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright said.
Hays CISD said it didn’t realize attendance would be a problem until it completed an internal audit a couple weeks ago showing the slight decline in enrollment numbers. This came shortly after finding out the state would continue funding, but with strings attached.
Some say they thought their students were still being recorded as virtual, when they were listed as in person.
“The students and parents are now scrambling with literally 24 to 48 hours notice to make adjustments,” another Hays CISD parent said.
Currently, Hays CISD students enrolled as in-person learners also have the option to sign in virtually to be counted as present. But now, the district’s incentivizing coming to class for at least eight of the remaining 25 days left of school to meet the standards for TEA.
Each campus has its own incentives.
To be eligible for some incentives — including exemptions from finals — in-person students can’t miss more than three classes. The district changed the exemption rules to get more students physically inside classes, which left a lot of families frustrated.
Seniors missing more than two days won’t be able to participate in final special moments like their senior ceremony and trip.
Parents say the last-minute changes are unfair and wish they would have been given more of a heads up.
“I have a sophomore, she’s literally gone to school in person two days this year,” Hays CISD parent Caryn Castillo said.
Many feel the new rules punish high schoolers who have adapted to hybrid schedules to be able to work.
The district said parents were notified as soon as there was a plan to fix the problem to meet TEA requirements.
“They need to release the funds. I don’t know what the hold up is, but I’m really starting to get irritated that it’s not crystal clear,” Lydia Smith, another parent, said. “Unintended consequences still means one thing — it was caused by someone else’s choices. But it wasn’t the choice of these kids.”
Wright said he understands parents’ frustrations, saying the district is frustrated as well.
“Sometimes when things are out of our control, sometimes we have to be reactive,” Wright said.
Hays CISD said it will work with parents, understanding that everyone has a different situation. It said if any parent is having issues, where they selected their student to be virtual this semester instead of in person, they should contact their campus directly.