AUSTIN, Texas - Every school day, Leander ISD provides about 11,000 free meals; breakfast. and lunch. Drive-up locations like this one at Cedar Park Middle school help families with kids who are taking classes online.
A federal grant is keeping pantries stocked and the program running into the 2021 school year.
"The beautiful thing, also about this program Rudy, is that we don’t have to have people apply, we don’t have to, it is free for everybody, its inclusive, it’s such an odd time and life circumstances changed for many families across Texas and across Leander ISD,” said Corey Ryan spokesperson for LISD.
The program, according to Ryan, is an example of how school districts are having to make adjustments during the pandemic.
"So when this is done, we know that these relationships, social connections, are going to be critical to being able to jump-start and getting back to normal once the threat is gone,” said Ryan.
As of now, the district isn't sinking because of COVID19. "It is not the emergency response that we experience last spring but, this is still a crisis," said Ryan.
The financial situation in Leander ISD is expected to be sustained for as long as COVID lasts.
The big question for Leander ISD and other school districts is what will the legislature do with funding? State lawmakers have started to address that question with TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. He testified Thursday before a virtual state appropriations committee hearing.
The agency's new education budget request, according to Morath, is essentially the same amount provided during the last session. “Holding the line” Morath indicated, is critical.
Mark Wiggins with the Association of Texas Professional Educators, agrees.
"We know that once students start coming back to classrooms, when it’s safe to do so, there is going to be a ton of work, just to do remediation, to bring students back up to speed to recover all of the learning loss we've experienced during the COVID19 pandemic,” said Wiggins.
That loss is being called the COVID slide.
A graph from TEA shows how online course work in math has decreased for all students. The drop is larger for those in low-income groups. To reverse the slide, TEA wants extra money to hire more educators who reflect the state's diverse student population in order to better connect with them.
Money is also requested for intervention and campus support programs for high-risk kids.
Wiggins also warns ongoing costs to keep schools open can’t be overlooked. "Things like disinfectant, cleaning schools, all that costs money. And the last thing we want to do is hamstring school districts right when all of the real hard work of receiving from this pandemic is beginning," said Wiggins.
A big wild card in the budget process is how funding for school districts is based on attendance. Enrollment in many school districts is down, for example; LISD is missing about 2,000 students from last year. It’s believed those kids didn’t leave but are being home-schooled.
The hope is they'll be back or new enrollment will cover the loss.