School funding based on attendance vs. enrollment; Texas state rep. files bill to change the norm

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For years, student attendance has been the base for school funding. How much a school district gets is made up of complicated formulas created by the Texas legislature and implemented by the Texas Education Agency.

In the age of a pandemic, with students in and out of the classroom, parents now argue something needs to change at the state level.

Inside the Texas State Capitol, House Representative Gina Hinojosa is working to change education funding as we know it. On Friday, she filed HB1246 to fund schools based on enrollment and not attendance.

“Schools with high concentrations of poverty struggle the most with attendance often because of housing and transportation challenges,” Hinojosa wrote in a tweet. “Schools should not be penalized for serving kids in poverty.”

Hinojosa says Texas is one of just a handful of states that still use, in her words, an outdated funding system.

“Education has evolved and it doesn’t look the way it did when I was in school,” said Hinojosa. “What’s known as butts in chairs doesn’t work well when you think about blended education.”

During the pandemic, the topic of school funding has sparked interest by several parents who have wrestled with keeping their students home or sending them back to school in fear of contracting COVID-19.

“In the middle of a pandemic, we see how the rules for Texas Education Agency have severely impacted our ability to pay attention to Austin Public Health recommendations,” said Sharyn Vane, Austin ISD parent.

Others argue removing the weight of funding based on attendance reduces the incentive for schools to get kids in classrooms.

“The problem with that is we have probably the most stringent accountability system in the country. We really hold our kids to these standards that are probably above grade level when it comes to our accountability system,” said Rep. Hinojosa. “School will still be held to those outcomes. There will always be this incentive to teach and educate our kids.”

E3 Alliance is a non-profit working to improve the quality of education, in part by increasing attendance rates. Executive director Susan Dawson applauds Hinojosa’s efforts in bringing school funding to the table, but says funding on enrollment may not be ideal.

“Enrollment does not tell you if a student is engaged. It does not tell you the quality of education a student is receiving,” Dawson said. “It’s still just a proxy, a higher-weighted proxy than attendance though.”

“Funding schools based on enrollment is just recognizing the reality of the cost associated with education,” said Hinojosa.

Next steps from here are to discuss this during a public education committee hearing, but the chair of education has to first grant a hearing.

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