Dallas ISD, other districts worry about loss of state funding due to missing students

The Texas education commissioner is grappling with the question of whether to provide districts with funding for students who haven't shown up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some lawmakers think if districts don't have funding as a motive, they will make less effort to get students back engaged. But Dallas ISD and other districts like it could lose tens of millions of dollars if the Texas Education Commission chooses to re-instate per-pupil funding.

"Dallas could lose up to $25 million. The commissioner had the authority to do this for fall semester and spring semester, but he chose only to do it for the fall," said DISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa.

Hinojosa said the state education commissioner promised a decision by late February, making the deadline Sunday.

Commissioner Mike Morath told lawmakers Monday that he wanted their take before making a decision. Morath said there are several categories of missing students, from those who can't be found to those who can.

"There’s another group of kids that are not enrolled. The districts know where they are, they know they are there, they’re just skipping the year. I think that is fairly small population. Normally truancy laws would take effect there, but the truancy system is non-functional this year," Morath said.

There are also students who are enrolled, but not engaging in virtual school.

"Maybe they're only participating twice a week. That is the biggest category of kids by far," Morath said.

Hinojosa said the district tracks engagement, which is now at percent -- much lower than when kids are in a classroom.

"If they are in the classroom, the teachers can see them face-to-face and they can't turn off the camera, they can’t go off and babysit, they’ve got to be engaged in the lesson," Hinojosa said.

Morath had a concerning story for lawmakers about the potential long-term impact based on a teacher strike in Argentina that lasted 80 days.

"They found that the students had lower academic achievement, lower graduation rates, lower college achievement, lower wages and a solid 20-year impact on GDP in Argentina. That was 80 days. Failure is not an option," Morath said.

Morath also said that the state believes college enrollment is down drastically, but the state won't have the official numbers for several years.