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Hays CISD losing $7 million in funding

By Brittany Anderson

Hays CISD’s enrollment currently stands at 22,330 students, but with an attendance rate of 93.17%, the district is facing a $7 million loss in funding. 

During the Nov. 14 Hays CISD board of trustees meeting, superintendent Dr. Eric Wright provided the district with an update regarding an audit report that would reflect this loss of funding due to low attendance rates during the 2021-22 school year.  

Wright explained that there was anticipated revenue that didn’t end up being generated due to low attendance rates. As such, the district did not receive ADA (average daily attendance) Hold Harmless for its fifth and sixth six weeks when the attendance rate was a little more than 90% during that time. 

The Hold Harmless policy was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic as a means for district funding regardless of its enrollment and attendance rates. 

“We were all thinking we were going to receive ADA Hold Harmless for the entire year,” Wright said. “What we found from behind the scenes is that the state, even though they have a $27 billion surplus right now, noticed that $9 billion in ESSER [elementary and secondary school emergency relief]funds hadn’t been spent across districts in Texas. That’s because that money was initially earmarked for learning loss and mental health, so we’re spending ours for that purpose, but they said that schools basically needed to abandon what they were doing with that and plug the holes for ADA Hold Harmless before they would start doing anything else.” 

Wright added that there is a “good chance” that ESSER money that had been earmarked for the 2023-24 school year will have to be used in other ways to help fill gaps. 

“That doesn’t mean we’ll do away with those [ESSER-funded] positions; we may just have to repurpose some things. It’s all going to be dependent on whether our attendance increases for this year,” Wright said. “It’s not looking good … but if we pick up steam in the spring when everyone gets healthy, maybe we can flip the script and bring in some more money. If not, we’re going to have to prioritize positions and make decisions through the budgeting process.” 

Legislative and campus initiatives are in the works to help, however. Staff and attendance specialists are making calls or home visits to gain insight into chronic absenteeism, and student-targeted initiatives like extra recess time or pizza parties are also being implemented. Dr. Brian Dawson, director of student services, is also working to create a mentoring program to help give students a “purpose for coming to school” and be able to help mentor others.  

Additionally, a switch to enrollment-based funding would offer the “best of all worlds,” according to Wright, who noted that while legislative priorities have since changed the law to prevent the school-to-prison pipeline, it has in a sense taken out the “teeth” of what districts can do as far as truancies. 

“In high school, you have to attend a class 90% of the time in order to get credit. But think about that: that’s 10% of the time they’re away that we don’t get funded,” Wright said. “It makes it tough to convince some of them to come to school if they know they’re going to credit [regardless]. It doesn’t harm them, it harms the district. If a kid only comes 93% of the time, the teacher still has to be there 100% of the time.” 

Wright also said that new homes within the district continue to be built and closed on and despite labor shortages and supply chain issues, is still providing an opportunity for more students to be added into the district that will — hopefully — have a positive impact on attendance rates and funding. 

About Author

Brittany Anderson graduated from Texas State University in August 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She previously worked at KTSW 89.9, Texas State University's radio station, for nearly two years in the web content department as a writer and assistant manager. She has reported for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch since July 2021.

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