Texas charter schools impacted by Harvey will get state help, education commissioner says

The House Public Education Committee held a hearing about many of the issues facing public schools in the wake of Harvey, with Morath and superintendents across the state explaining their needs.

Michelle Bonton, founder and superintendent of The Rhodes School in Houston, told the lawmakers this week that her charter school suffered about $5 million in damages, losing one facility and most of another.

Bonton said about 40 percent of students at one of her campuses are still displaced after the storm, and many staffers are, too.

“They’re not looking so much to their government for support as they’re looking to their schools,” she said of dealing with the trauma.

At the conference, Morath also discussed a new mental health taskforce created to help students and staff with counseling needs, training and other resources.

“We know you have students who — when the rain comes — start freaking out,” Morath said. “There’s going to be many early signs of post traumatic stress from both your students and staffers.”

Morath also told the group that charters will be eligible for the same breaks traditional districts are getting on allocation of state funds. The state won’t penalize their funding levels if the schools saw a drop in enrollment after the storm. Much of the state’s complex school finance system is determined on per-student attendance rates.

Insurance and federal relief funds are likely to pay for the bulk of repairs or replacement costs for buildings and equipment.

But a single misstep in paperwork could mean no help at all for schools. So the Texas Education Agency has also set up a support system to help school officials navigate the complicated forms needed to make sure they are reimbursed for losses, he said.

Next year the state is transitioning to a new academic accountability system in which districts are graded on an A-F scale on how well they educate children. In 2019, individual campuses will also be graded.

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