AUSTIN (Nexstar) — At a virtual budget hearing Thursday, the Texas Education Agency outlined how it’s adjusting its budget this year to comply with the governor’s request to cut costs by 5%. But, Commissioner Mike Morath explained the agency is going to need some extra help in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morath requested $20 million, specifically to assist the students of lower-income families. He pointed to a national study to illustrate the gap.
“Wealthy students made really the same level of academic progress, and in some cases, even more academic progress than before, middle-class students and low-income students saw significant declines. Middle-class students were able to recoup those declines over time, low-income students have seen significant declines in academic progress,” Morath explained.
Middle school teachers like Mario Pina see the gap every day.
“A lot of our students are having to be caregivers to their brothers and sisters, as their parents go and work,” Pina explained.
He also added the pandemic has brought an extra strain on teachers, which has hindered their ability to help these students falling behind.
“As teachers ourselves, we’re kind of struggling; we’re trying to find the balance between virtual teaching and teaching in person,” Pina said.
Tiffanie Harrison, a high school teacher in Round Rock, said virtual learning has made it difficult to monitor how students are following along.
“We don’t know what those situations are at home. And, you know, we we make guidelines, like make sure in a quiet place, well, if you have many siblings, or you’re sharing a space, it’s not very large, that may be difficult to achieve,” Harrison said.
Bob Popinski with Raise Your Hand Texas said he was glad to hear Morath’s request Thursday.
“In our state, we have about 5.4 million students and about 60% of them are considered low income, they receive free and reduced lunch price programs,” Popinski said, “We don’t want this pandemic crisis to lead to an educational generational crisis.”
The TEA’s presentation at Thursday’s hearing said half the funding would go toward attracting and train effective, diverse educators who reflect the student population in Texas communities. The other $10 million would go toward targeted interventions and campus supports to reduce achievement gaps within district and school environments.
Popinski hopes some of it will give teachers more resources to better help these struggling students.
“Over the course of the last year, a lot of teachers needed to get professional development to ramp up their skills on how to teach online courses and remote courses. What you’re seeing right now and some districts is teachers are having to do both,” Popinski reiterated Pina’s concerns.
“[Whether it] gives very direct instruction to those kids who need it the most, the interventions, where it’s after school programs or remediation for the kids who are falling way behind. And that might look different from district to district,” Popinski said.
But, the funding is going to need the stamp of approval from state legislators first, which will be difficult since the legislators will be weighing similar requests from other agencies.
“I don’t believe there’s anyone in the legislature who would want to do anything to truly harm the students and the teachers in our public schools,” State Rep. Gary VanDeaver, (R) New Boston, said.
He’s on the Texas House’s Appropriations Committee, along with the Public Education Committee. “What can we do to best help them while we are, you know, good stewards of the resources we have in the state, or lack thereof?” VanDeaver said.