HCISD could lose millions if students do not return

by Sahar Chmais

Hays CISD is urging students to attend their classes so the district does not lose millions of dollars in state funds.

If in-person attendance in the last six weeks of this school year is not greater than in-person attendance from last October, Hays CISD could lose up to $7 million, said Hays CISD Superintendent Dr. Eric Wright.

“That is important money that allows us to pay our teachers, buy supplies, and offer our students the best possible resources,” Wright wrote in a letter to parents. “It’s also your money. Every dollar the state has in its coffers is money that comes from you and other taxpayers. Your children are due that $7 million and we want to bring it back home so they can benefit from it. We can do that by meeting the attendance target.”

Due to COVID, rather than counting the average daily attendance for this year, the state is holding districts harmless for lower attendance, if they can meet certain criteria, said Hays CISD Chief of Communication Tim Savoy. Rather than funding Hays CISD for this year’s attendance, the district would be funded on an average of daily attendance for the past three years.

To qualify for the hold harmless funding, which is about $7 million, at least 68.4% of Hays CISD students must physically be in class for at least eight days each in the final six weeks of the year, Savoy explained.

But attendance has been down for all students – in-person and online. The average daily attendance in 2020-2021 has been 93% and in the prior school year it was over 95%.

The district receives a basic allotment of $6,160 per student per year, an amount that gets reduced per student for absences. Funding is the same for in-person and virtual students. Additionally, Hays CISD receives addition funding because it is a fast-growth school district, Savoy said.

While missing class has been affecting school funding, it has also increased student failing rates. Wright said he wants to emphasize that attendance is first and foremost about the presence of students in order to receive a full educational experience.

“That’s the most important consideration,” Wright said. “I want students to be present in their classes (in-person or virtual) because I don’t want them to miss out on anything.”

Wright added that if a student is unable to attend class due to health issues or other reasons, caregivers should make the best decisions for loved ones, even if it means an absence from school.

To help fix the issue, campuses will create attendance incentive programs, similar to what is seen during every normal school year, Wright said.

“I know it’s not the most popular messaging – attendance tied to school funding – but, in a strange way, it’s nice to see us take a step back to the familiar,” Wright said. “Here’s hoping we continue to take steps that, once and for all, put this pandemic behind us.”

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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