Round Rock, Texas – In a letter signed by the seven members of the Round Rock Independent School District Board of Trustees, a plea was made asking Gov. Greg Abbott and other state leaders to extend the hold harmless provision which would allow the district to retain $13 million in the district’s budget, for the remainder of the current school year.
The letter reads as follows:
Dear State Leader,
We are at a critical point in what has already been the most challenging school year for public education in modern history and we need your help. Students and teachers are struggling to master new learning environments. Our children yearn for social interaction and emotional support. Our public school leaders and their staff members have risen to the occasion heroically, yet still we know the effects of this pandemic on student performance and well-being are dire and long lasting.
This is the time to continue to invest in our schools. This is the time for support and resources. This is not the time for cutting budgets and undermining schools’ ability to help students. If the current “hold harmless” provision is not extended, that is exactly what Round Rock ISD and districts across Texas will be facing. The provision, which as you know funds districts based on last year’s enrollment, is scheduled to expire on January 1. If that happens, our students and teachers will return from Winter Break to a district facing $13 million in lost funding.
A $13 million budget cut in funding would be difficult at any time, but to endure it in the midst of a pandemic that is directly and immediately impacting our students, is unacceptable. In a year marked by uncertainty, we can provide much-needed stability by extending the hold harmless provision to the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
As local leaders, we thank you for your service and leadership during these challenging times and for your ongoing support of public education. We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every sector of our society, but perhaps no other area has been as totally transformed as our public schools. We also understand that schools play a critical role in our economy and supporting our schools, mitigating learning loss and providing resources that help schools return to normal is foundational to the recovery of our state and nation.
The learning loss for our students whose education was interrupted by the pandemic is a significant learning crisis that will require intensive intervention by our district. Round Rock ISD is proud of its long standing reputation for providing a world-class academic experience. But this year we have seen a 6 percent drop in our college readiness rates and our failure rates for high school nearly doubled to 27 percent and for middle school students nearly tripled to 23 percent in the first nine-week grading period. It is imperative that state leaders honor the commitments made by the 86th Texas Legislature and provide the necessary funding to support our students and compensate our teachers.
Fortunately, the State can afford funding the hold-harmless provision for the 2020-21 school year with a surplus remaining. There is a surplus of roughly $3 billion from the Foundation School Program; from supplanting ESSER funds (saving roughly $1.2 billion), lower than estimated ADA in the 2019-20 school year and higher than estimated property value growth in tax year 2019. This, combined with the already appropriated FSP funding based on enrollment estimates for the 2020-21 school year, allows for the hold harmless to be extended for the entire school year without impacting any of the $3 billion that has already been saved from the Foundation School Program.
We recognize the budget process for the next biennium will be challenging; however, we are looking at an imminent crisis this year, but it can be avoided. Our students, our teachers, our community rely on us to provide a safe, secure and educationally sound environment.
Please support the continuation and expansion of the hold harmless for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year as soon as possible.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.