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Austin ISD Could Lose Millions From The State If Too Many Students Stay Home

Lockers in an empty hallway at LBJ Early College High School.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Austin ISD could lose state funding if a 44% of students don't come back to campus for at least 13 days.

The Austin Independent School District has spent the last few weeks encouraging families to send students back to school buildings. One of the reasons it's doing so: $20 million is at stake if too many students stay home.

During the first semester, the Texas Education Agency said a district would continue to receive funding as long as it offered in-person learning. That slowly changed with each six-week grading period. The final six-week period has different requirements. Now, under the TEA's formula, Austin ISD needs 44% of enrolled students to be on campus for at least 13 days.

If that goal isn’t met, district officials estimate they could lose around $20 million in state funding.

“There’s no doubt that it’s been very confusing and that there being different rules at different times have made it difficult,” Jacob Reach, AISD's chief officer of governmental relations, said.

Reach said the district is also pushing to bring students back because AISD considers classrooms to be safe.

“We do want to ensure we receive all the funding, but we also believe and know that we can do it in a safe manner,” Reach said. “We have many elementary schools that are actually already above 50% and have been for quite some time and have been very safe without transmission happening within the classroom.”

Austin Public Health confirms this is true. All the COVID-19 outbreaks within school communities could be traced back to sports, extracurricular activities and gatherings outside of school buildings.

The district’s last six-week grading period of the year started Monday.

Corrected: April 15, 2021 at 10:47 AM CDT
A previous version of this story said $30 million is at stake. Austin ISD already received $10 million for the first semester, so $20 million is on the table now.
Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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