Enrollment drop, TEA takeover and other Houston ISD stories to follow in 2021

Houston ISD
As the district continues to adapt to the challenges from the pandemic, it faces some key moments in 2021. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)

As the district continues to adapt to the challenges from the pandemic, it faces some key moments in 2021. (Matt Dulin/Community Impact Newspaper)

2020 was a big year for Houston ISD, and 2021 could be even more so—COVID-19 notwithstanding. As the district continues to adapt to the challenges from the pandemic, it faces some key moments in 2021. Here are just a few of the stories to keep an eye on next year for the state's largest school district.

Officials fear fiscal hit from enrollment decline

Houston ISD stands to lose as much as $90 million in attendance-based funding from the state if it cannot bring enrollment numbers back to pre-COVID-19 levels, posing a challenge for the next budget planning cycle, interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan told trustees Dec. 10.

A provisional policy from the Texas Education Agency to hold off on using attendance in funding calculations was set to expire Dec. 31. Lathan said the district could absorb budget losses this year without making any deep cuts.

“We’re using our savings account, just like you would do at home, that’s what’s getting us through this school year,” Lathan said, referring to the district’s fund balance. At the end of fiscal year 2019-20, the district had an unrestricted general fund balance of $655 million. “As we prepare for 2021-22, we have to prepare for those cuts.”


After revising the FY 2020-21 budget twice already, Lathan said at another amendment was expected in February to deal with additional COVID-19 expenses.

“All of us thought this would be over sooner rather than later,” she said.

As of Nov. 2, enrollment was 197,059, about 10,000 fewer than the projected 207,000. A substantial portion of the loss—about 4,000 students—were from pre-kindergarten, Lathan said, as parents opted out of enrollment because of COVID-19.

As for the other losses, officials do not yet have a tally of how many may have transferred out of district.

District to offer free rapid COVID-19 testing

As part of a statewide program, Houston ISD will begin offering free COVID-19 rapid testing to students and staff in January.

The BinaxNow swab test kits can be self-administered under supervision and results are available within 15 minutes, according to the Texas Department of Emergency Management, which is overseeing the K-12 COVID-19 Testing Project.

HISD will receive over 50,000 test kits monthly, according to TDEM data, allowing it to test all staff and a percentage of students.

Tests are optional and may be given even when symptoms are not present. Students under age 18 have to obtain parental permission to be tested.

Texas Supreme Court ruling is pending

It is not clear when the Texas Supreme Court could issue a ruling that will determine whether the Texas Education Agency can move forward with replacing the Houston ISD board of trustees—an action first blocked by a Travis County judge in January 2020.

In April, a state appeals court ordered that injunction to remain in place until the appeal could be heard. On Dec. 30, the appeals court affirmed that the injunction was sound and that the TEA improperly sought to impose a takeover.

However, oral arguments before the Supreme Court were also held in October on the matter, and the TEA also said it intends to appeal the Dec. 30 decision to the Supreme Court.

The TEA is seeking to appoint a board of managers, which would replace the trustees in providing oversight to the administration.

District of Innovation process underway

Houston ISD continues to work on developing its formal District of Innovation plan. A committee of 15 people, including one for each of the nine trustee districts and five superintendent appointees, was formed in October to draft the plan.

The district wants to use the status to set an earlier school start date, to offer flexibility around the minimum attendance rules for class credit, and to allow hiring Career and Technical Education teachers under different certification requirements.

The innovation plan will go before the District Advisory Committee for review, and if approved, will be open for public comment for 30 days prior to a board of trustees vote. If adopted, it would remain in effect for five years.
By Matt Dulin
Matt joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2018 and is the City Editor for Houston's Inner Loop editions.


MOST RECENT

The University of St. Thomas is a private Catholic college in Houston. It also has a microcampus in downtown Conroe. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
University of St. Thomas offering free tuition to first 500 students who apply

The online degrees are in the following fields: cybersecurity, network technology, electronic technology, general business, and alcohol and drug dependency counseling.

houston firefighters rally
Appeals court rules in favor Houston firefighters in collective bargaining case

The 14th Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the fire union in a case that originated when the city and the union failed to reach an agreement on a labor contract in 2017.

The Texas Department of State Health Services projects a significant shortage of nurses by 2032. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Q&A: Why Texas faces a growing nursing shortage and what can be done to address it

In 2018, the state health department estimated about 11% of the demand for nurses was not able to be met, and that number is expected to rise to 16.3% by 2032.

Rumi's Place will open on Post Oak Boulevard in fall 2022, specializing in Persian food with a contemporary twist. (Courtesy Zadok family)
Persian restaurant Rumi's Place announced for Post Oak mixed-use development in Uptown

The eatery will occupy the last available restaurant space at the newly opened Post Oak Place, alongside Uchiko.

I-69 Southwest Freeway at I-610 West Loop will be closed May 7 at 9 p.m. until May 10 at 5 a.m. (Courtesy Texas Department of Transportation)
TxDOT: I-69 Southwest Freeway at I-610 West Loop closed through weekend

From May 7 at 9 p.m. until May 10 at 5 a.m., the lanes will be closed.

Legacy Community Health is bringing COVID-19 vaccines to historically underserved communities across Beaumont and Houston. (Courtesy Pexels)
Legacy Community Health vaccine rollout targets underserved communities in Houston, Beaumont

The health network is partnering with other entities, including Beaumont Independent School District.

HTV
Houston, Harris County annual addresses no longer hosted by Greater Houston Partnership over Texas voter bill dispute

Local leaders criticized the area chamber of commerce for not taking a definitive stance on two voting access bills currently being deliberated in the Texas Legislature.

The new location is Chipotle's first in Magnolia. (Courtesy Chipotle Mexican Grill)
Chipotle opens in Magnolia; get a sneak peek of new Houston aquarium and more metro news

Read the latest business and community news from the Houston area.

The Original ChopShop is targeting an early September opening in River Oaks, one of the first two locations of the chain coming to Houston. (Courtesy Facebook)
ROUNDUP: 5 summer openings planned in Heights, River Oaks and Montrose areas

A crafthouse, a massage therapy spa and a corner store that doubles as a Mediterranean cafe are among the new businesses that hope to open this summer.

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member. (Courtesy Fire Smart, LLC)
Fire Smart, LLC celebrates one year of providing fire safety education across Greater Houston area

The business specializes in customized in-home consultations during which families will receive a fire safety plan specific to their house's floor plan and an age-appropriate, individualized plan for each family member.

Designs show the concept for the administration area of a new 32,000-square-foot campus being planned by Xavier Educational Academy. (Courtesy Xavier Educational Academy)
Xavier Educational Academy announces plans to combine campuses at 1 location near Arboretum

The private school currently operates at three campuses in West University, The Woodlands and Memorial. The new 32,000-square-foot campus will quadruple the available space.