Richardson ISD considering plan to address student learning loss

Richardson ISD board meeting.
Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum addresses the Richardson ISD board of trustees on April 19. (William C. Wadsack/Community Impact Newspaper)

Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum addresses the Richardson ISD board of trustees on April 19. (William C. Wadsack/Community Impact Newspaper)

Richardson ISD staff presented the board of trustees with an academic acceleration plan April 19 that is designed to address student learning gaps due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The plan is proposed for the fiscal year 2021-22 budget to use the $40 million-$70 million in federal funds the district estimates it could receive from the $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funds intended for public schools that are currently being held by the Texas Legislature.

"It's been [said to be] as high as $75 million that we could be receiving," Superintendent Jeannie Stone said. "Now is the time for us to be ready to invest in our district, in our students and recovering from what has been a very difficult year and a half."

Texas public schools were allotted $1.3 billion in the first round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. In an April 14 presentation to the State Board of Education, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said those funds were used to fund hold harmless in the 2019-20 school year. The hold harmless provision ensured school districts received state funding based on their projected enrollment despite attendance declines, potentially preventing teacher layoffs and other budget cuts, he said.

The second and third rounds of ESSER funding, amounting respectively to $5.5 billion and $12.4 billion, have not yet been distributed to Texas public school districts. Morath said this is because the Legislature is awaiting guidance from the federal government on certain conditions tied to the funding.

"There's no information to us right now as to when that we would be receiving these dollars, although we are needing and expected to plan for our acceleration plans for the summer and for the upcoming year," Stone said.

RISD's academic acceleration plan includes one-time expenses of $4.1 million and a two-year recurring cost of $28.22 million per year.

"We have been standing up in front of you, really since August, sharing with you ... the very real learning loss that our students have experienced," Deputy Superintendent Tabitha Branum said to the RISD board. "We know on average, our students in reading are seeing a three-to-five month learning gap. And our students in mathematics are seeing a four-to-six month learning gap."

The district's plan includes funds for summer intervention and enrichment, an expansion of the district intervention team, student and teacher support and more.

According to the two most recent rounds of ESSER funding, states are required to maintain the same percentage of funding to support education allocated prior to the pandemic through fiscal year 2022-23. Morath said Texas faces a unique challenge here because House Bill 3 passed in 2019 infused a net $4.4 billion of new revenue year over year into school district budgets in FY 2019-20.

Morath said he is optimistic a resolution will be reached soon, and districts will be given clarity regarding this federal funding.

“The legislative leadership is actually very interested in making sure that all districts are made whole in their COVID expenses,” Morath said.

Stone said she is hopeful the district will receive the money from the third round of ESSER funding, which is estimated to be $30 million-$50 million for RISD. However, she said the district is not banking on receiving anything from the second round of ESSER funding.

"In the absence of any ESSER funds, which is highly unlikely, then we would go to our budgets [for alternative funding for the academic acceleration plan]," Stone said. "We would look at the sources that we already have in reserve, potentially for some or all of this."
By William C. Wadsack

Editor, Plano

William joined Community Impact Newspaper in December 2019. He previously served as managing editor of several daily and weekly publications in North Texas and his native state of Louisiana.