Over 30% of you are already back to school, and we hope your year is off to a good start! The rest of you are preparing to reopen for the 2020-21 school year, and then we all need to turn our attention to the reopening of the Texas Legislature and what that may mean for the future.
TEA Update
TEA posted some new updates and resources on their Coronavirus (COVID-19) Support and Guidance website.

The SY 20-21 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ was updated to include new information about serving Pre-K students, especially for districts that are not providing a full-day of instruction for Pre-K students. That information can be found on pages 7-8 of the updated document. Additionally, TEA provided some clarity regarding the requirement that students on an asynchronous plan must check in DAILY to show progress, rather than completing a week's worth of tasks on one day (pg. 13). Further, pages 22-24 provide greater clarity on the fact that during the transitional period, districts have the leeway to transition students back to campus in a manner that involves bringing only certain groups of students on campus and providing less than a full-day of instruction on-campus. That being said, we're still all 100% clear that students and families that cannot access the remote instruction the school district is providing must be permitted access for on-campus instruction.

There will be two dates for which schools will report enrollment data this fall - September 28 and the standard October 30. For more information on that crisis code values reporting through PEIMS, see this To the Administrator Addressed communication.

There are also some updates regarding Operation Connectivity, including an updated Operation Connectivity Bulk Order FAQ, an updated document on Operation Connectivity bulk purchasing payments, and a new (now 2-page) flyer to use with your local mayor(s) and county judge(s) to seek their help in securing a local match to help pay for your district's bulk order. The Commissioner noted that the additional up to 25% match from TEA to match local government funds will be awarded on a first come, first served basis, so he encouraged those hoping to qualify for the additional match to apply early.

The FAQ for School Boards has been updated to clarify that the Commissioner has waived the board training requirements for all districts until January 31, 2021. This waiver is granted automatically, and no application is necessary.

Every district must distribute this handout spelling out Education Rights and Responsibilities During COVID-19 to every student. TEA has also provided a copy in Spanish.

New information was published in regards how to serve special populations through remote instruction:

Finally, a new free resource for teachers was announced. OnRamps, a signature initiative of The University of Texas at Austin, recently established the OnRamps Distance Learning Catalog, which is a series of online professional development modules designed to support middle and high school teachers who are preparing to teach in distance or hybrid learning environments. In partnership with TEA, five of the 20 modules in the catalog will be available to Texas school districts and teachers free of charge. The five modules that are available at no cost include:

  • Belonging, Equity, and Connectivity
  • Transforming Learning with Tech Tools
  • Learner-Centered Course Creation and Design
  • Authentic Assessment in Online Learning

Any of your staff that would like to participate in this free resource can access it by visiting onramps.catalog.instructure.com. Then just click on the option to "Enroll" and provide the requested information, using a school district email address.

School District Fund Balances
One of the common themes discussed among state leaders right now is how much districts have "stockpiled" in their fund balances that could be used when state funding is running low. There are some who regularly compare school district fund balances to the State's Economic Stabilization Fund (also referred to as the Rainy Day Fund). We know that's not true, and there are specific reasons why districts may need a higher balance for cash flow purposes, especially those who receive little or no state funding.

There is room for a little education on this topic, so we've developed a set of frequently asked questions and answers to help begin that conversation with leaders and members of your community. We hope this is a useful tool, and we will continue to update it and provide further communications tool on this topic in the future.
Preparing for the 87th Legislative Session
Legislative committees are issued interim charges with topics to study and monitor. As reminder, this table provides an overview of the charges that pertain to public education. You can also access the full set of Senate Interim Charges (or an abbreviated version for public education in the Senate) and the full set of House Interim Charges (or an abbreviated version for public education in the House).

During a typical interim, those committees conduct hearings to study those charges. This interim is anything but typical though, so committees are doing things a little differently to prepare for the upcoming 87th Legislative Session. Committee rules in the Senate and the House do not allow for virtual hearings, and in-person hearings don't seem to be in the cards before the deadline for committees to issue their reports to the 87th Texas Legislature.

One Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, had completed hearings on four of their eight study charges and five of their nine monitoring charges before the shut-down. So that committee has already completed and issued their full report, which includes recommendations on topics such as the investment of state funds, the state's spending limit, and natural disaster funding.

With no public hearings expected to be scheduled at the Capitol between now and when the session is set to begin, several committees have already posted notices (such as this one from the House Ways & Means Committee) seeking written input to help inform the committee process and the reports and recommendations they will produce. These notices provide specific information and instructions for written submissions. We expect to see even more of these from committees, and even more reports that will be written based on the limited public input allowed during this time.

Stay tuned for more info on written submissions and ways to communicate during the pandemic.

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