Between an Oct. 2 Houston hearing of the House Appropriations Committee and an Oct. 12 Austin hearing of the House Public Education Committee, lawmakers have heard plenty from school officials and others along the Texas coast about the costs resulting from Hurricane Harvey.

Exact numbers are still not available, but school-related costs alone will be at least in the hundreds of millions, and likely more than a billion dollars. For now, legislators are simply listening to the problems, and it is not yet known to what extent state and federal dollars will be available to assist districts.

Many superintendents at the Austin hearing, as well as several legislators, have asked whether Commissioner Mike Morath intends to suspend or delay testing or otherwise change accountability measures and ratings to address the disruption caused by the storm. The questions have not yet been answered and House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty announced an upcoming (but not yet scheduled) committee meeting devoted to this topic.

Click here to see what coastal area superintendents told the Public Education Committee this week.

Hurricane-related cost categories

  • Facilities repairs/replacements and other property loss are the most apparent cost. Districts first work with their insurance company for reimbursement and then can apply for FEMA funds, but there will still be remaining costs. In addition to building costs, damage to textbooks, music instruments, band uniforms, sports uniforms and equipment, science lab equipment, and the like is widespread.
  • Districts taking in displaced students are facing increased costs that will eventually be made up by the state, but for now their funding is based on the enrollment estimates made before school started. Typically the “settle up” that either pays or bills districts based on their actual enrollment occurs at the end of the school year but the state is allowing an advance on those funds to cover some of the immediate costs.
  • Hard-hit districts could see reductions in state funding because of decreased student enrollment. As usual, the state is still paying districts based on their enrollment projections, but the end-of-year settle-up, if not addressed, would be significant. Commissioner Morath has announced that TEA will adjust ADA funding for these districts for the 2017-18 school year to mitigate the end-of-year settle-up.
  • Property values will be declining, reducing tax revenue for districts. This will be more of an issue next year when appraisal values are adjusted. It is also likely that collections will be affected, as some property owners may not be able to pay all or any of their taxes owed.
  • School finance funding weights will impose additional costs on the state. Many students will be newly categorized as homeless and/or eligible for free lunch (entitling them to compensatory education funds).
  • Homeless families are entitled to free pre-K, so more students will now be eligible for those programs. Also, many private child care facilities were affected, which may also lead to increases in public pre-K that must be funded.
  • Other, miscellaneous costs will also add up, including transportation services for students now attending more distant schools, increased insurance premiums, and mental health support and increased counseling services.
  • The regional service centers have been directed to increase staff in order to help with services including FEMA paperwork.