During the ongoing Texas Legislative session, our state must do all it can to financially restore and rebuild communities damaged by Hurricane Harvey. It’s good policy, but to me it’s also personal. Our senate district consists of roughly a third of the entire Texas coastline and some of the worst damage occurred in places like Aransas County.
All of Texas has been inspired by the people of Aransas County, and their resilience, spirit, and desire to rebuild. We have worked together to navigate the maze of government programs to deliver public and individual assistance.
Today, Aransas County is on the road to recovery, but there is still much more work to do. For instance, my office recently joined local and federal officials to meet about the bridge in Key Allegro. The good news from that meeting is the Texas Department of Transportation is now stepping in to help the City of Rockport with the costly damage.
Much like our roads and bridges, we must strongly support the Aransas County Independent School District (ACISD). It was encouraging in the year that followed Harvey, the Texas Education Agency was instructed by state leaders to pay for each enrolled student, even if that child didn’t actually attend ACISD during the school year. This means that during the last school year, ACISD and other districts damaged by Harvey were given a “hold harmless” in the state’s school funding formula, for each student that didn’t return after the storm. Districts were paid for every day that the schools were closed. This amounted to $3.6 million in state funds for ACISD in fiscal year 2018.
Beyond those dollars, there is even more financial assistance coming from the Texas Legislature. This will be in the form of SB 500, legislation I have joint authored with Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson. As it is currently written, the bill contains another new “hold harmless” provision for lost revenue on taxable values for property impacted by the hurricane. If passed in its current form, the bill will result in an estimated payment to ACISD of approximately $5 million. The payment would greatly help ACISD with local valuations, and would likely be distributed before Aug. 31, 2019. We must always respect the local control and elected leadership of every school district. While the state is not obligated to fund a local valuation shortfall, the hurricane damage demands the attention of all Texans. That’s why there has been a unified call during recent Senate Finance hearings to provide further state assistance, including the $905 million in SB 500. Lawmakers are largely in agreement these dollars should come from the Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.
While Harvey is now in the history books, the storm continues to take a toll. Total student enrollment for ACISD has dropped significantly due to population displacement following Harvey. According to sources, there are approximately 450 fewer students to teach today in the ACISD than there were before Aug. 25, 2017, when the hurricane hit. To help the ACISD transition in size, the monies included in SB 500 are meant to focus on the maintenance and operations of the school district. The local challenge now turns to solving housing challenges in Aransas County, which will result in more students returning to classrooms.
School funding is complicated to begin with, but when the impact of Hurricane Harvey is added, there are even more pitfalls. We must learn from this situation, and find a way to lessen the impact of “recapture” on schools damaged by Harvey. My office has listened to the people of Aransas County and with their input I have filed Senate Bill 660, which seeks to help with the costs of recapture for school districts following a disaster.
My office is committed to solving every challenge Aransas County faces. As your voice in the Texas Senate, I will continue to stand by every student, parent and employee at the ACISD and fight to see that the Texas Legislature delivers the educational foundation that every child deserves.