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Leander ISD could lose nearly $15M in state funding due to COVID-19 absences; other districts in a similar boat

Austin ISD's spokesperson said for every 1% drop in enrollment, the district will lose an estimated $3.9M.

LEANDER, Texas — The Leander Independent School District could lose up to $14.8 million in state funding because of low attendance, and it needs the State to step up.

The latest surge in COVID-19 cases sent many Leander ISD students and teachers home, causing attendance rates to plummet, according to Superintendent Bruce Gearing. Now, the district is seeing the financial impact of those absences add up. 

"We were seeing, you know, hundreds of students out every day, not able to attend classes and then isolating for 10 days," Leander ISD Spokesperson Matt Mitchell said.

State funding is based on average daily attendance, and Mitchell said the district usually budgets for 96% of students attending classes daily. But he added that when infections keep students home, the district doesn't reach attendance goals, causing "a funding deficit."

Mitchell said the actual attendance rate for the fall semester was 93.6%. The estimated attendance for the first six weeks of the spring semester is 89%. The year-to-date average is 92.45%.

An Austin ISD spokesperson said it is anticipating averaging out to 92% by the end of the year, as opposed to the 96% attendance threshold. She said for every 1% drop in enrollment, the district will lose an estimated $3.9 million.

Hays CISD and Pflugerville ISD both said they'll see significant drops as well. 

Pflugerville ISD leaders said about 500 fewer students enrolled this school year and average daily attendance dropped about 4% – statistics that could result in about a $16 million loss in state and local funds. The district could also lose millions in fast-growth allotment, costs to open Hidden Lake Elementary School next year and about $4 million in staff raises next year. In all, the district is potentially facing a $25 million shortfall for next year's budget.

"We are also waiting for the State to step in and make a determination on to what or if hold harmless will be extended," Mitchell said of Leander ISD. 

Because local education agencies reported that attendance rates were declining in the 2021-22 school year, the Texas Education Agency implemented an adjustment to operational minutes during this period. That adjustment to the minimum number of operational minutes does not hold a district harmless for losses of ADA due to declines in enrollment.

The TEA said it is still trying to decide if it will give the money this semester.

"We fund programs with that," said Mitchell. "We fund teaching with that. We get busses with that, lights. The operations of a school district all come from that."

Mitchell said luckily, Leander ISD has a sizable fund balance or savings account to keep it from cutting jobs, but that may not be the case for all districts.

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