In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, schools across America shut down in an effort to prevent the disease from becoming widespread. With schools in Texas closing down the week of spring break in March 2020, educators knew there would be mounting learning loss challenges to overcome. Recently released State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness/End-of-Course test results have proven those worries true, and now school districts are mandated to provide expensive and intensive tutoring to help any student who failed any section of the tests.
That mandate comes in the form of House Bill 4545, which took effect June 16 and applies to the 2021-22 school year. HB 4545 requires school districts to provide 30 hours of intervention tutoring for any student who failed a STAAR test subject. If a student failed three subjects, the district must provide them 90 hours of intervention tutoring. The bill additionally charges school districts with providing tutoring in small group instruction, meaning there will be no more than three students per one tutor, Paris ISD Assistant Superintendent Althea Dixon recently told the district’s board of trustees.
In Paris ISD, there are 1,000 students requiring intervention tutoring, Dixon said.
That’s an expensive requirement, Superintendent Paul Jones said, and the district plans to use some of its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief III and American Rescue Plan Act funds to help fund tutoring.
Trustees learned July 19 that Paris ISD’s entitlement is more than $10.66 million to be spent over the next three school years. To address impacts on learning, the district plans to spend $5.4 million on mentor teachers, enrichment opportunities and a tutoring program, according to the plan presented Monday. That will include extended day before and after-school programs, small group interventions throughout the day, summer learning and enrichment camps similar to the WildCAMP program that took place last week. During WildCAMP, district teachers shared passion hobbies with students, including sewing, cooking, art and crocheting.
The district is planning to contract with a third-party tutorial program to personalize and target student needs to accelerate learning, to monitor progress and to reach out to parents, according to the plan.
Prairiland ISD received $1.28 million over three years, with $50,000 budgeted for tutoring based on about 90 students needing core classes and about 15 needing only one subject. Tutoring will be done before and after school by teachers on payroll with pay up to $50 an hour, administrators said. The district also plans to hire interventionalists in reading and math, costing about $65,000 a year, and to send 30 teachers to a reading academy for $60,000 over two years.
Other ESSER spending projections include $642,000 for staff retention over three years; $75,000 in technology upgrades; and $142,000 for HVAC upgrades over three years.
The district may also need to put $120,000 not budgeted in ESSER funding toward tutoring, administrators said.
North Lamar ISD has received $2.5 million for the first two years of ESSER III funding and has allotted about $620,000 for tutoring. In the third year of ESSER, it will receive $1,254,994. The district has not yet released the number of students requiring the 30 hours of tutoring.
Out of 1,098 STAAR tests taken on Rivercrest ISD’s three campuses, students failed 218, administrators said. Rivercrest already provides intervention training for students who don’t meet the STAAR benchmarks, but the district plans to take advantage of the state ESSER funding to pay for its interventionists.
“We were pleasantly surprised at how well our students did on the STAAR tests. Rivercrest already serves our students who fail STAAR through RtI, tutorials, and learning academies. With the additional requirements of HB 4545, we have hired two additional employees to provide interventions, will utilize existing staff and rearrange our schedules to add additional time during the school day for intervention,” District Testing Coordinator Tiffany Mabe said.
About 80 Honey Grove ISD students failed a subject on the STAAR tests, resulting in a total of 2,400 hours of mandatory intervention training, Superintendent Todd Morrison said.
To support the unanticipated load, the school district will hire interventionists to tutor students. While the district will use ESSER III funds for the intervention for the next three years, if the requirement continues past that point, it will become a heavy financial burden on the district, Morrison said.
The district received almost $1.4 million in ESSER funds, at least 20% of which will go towards instruction and addressing the Covid-19 learning gap. Administrators also plan to use the funds to update the HVAC system for 55 outdated units on all three campuses and update windows among other possibilities.
The school district may also provide extended counseling to individual students to help with some of the shortcomings resulting from pandemic closures.
“The legislation that they put in place, most school districts around here, and I don’t want to speak for all school districts, but most school districts were already instituting accelerated instruction trying to close gaps … We were trying to do that for the most part. Now, what HB 4545 does is just put that black and white on how many instructional hours that has to be,” Morrison said.
“The hardships are gonna be in this if this is a mandated long process. Because you know, after the head funds run out, this is going to be an unfunded mandate. There’s not going to be the money there to fund these interventionists. The ESSER dollars are prorated out over three years, so you’ve basically got three years worth of funding for these interventionists. After three years, that’s gone. So the hardships are going to occur after three years when it’s no longer funded, but locally you still feel the need for these interventionists,” he added.
In Detroit ISD, at the middle and high school, about 30 students on each campus will need 30 hours of accelerated instruction. A few students will need 60 or more intervention hours if they failed multiple subjects on the STAAR test, Superintendent Kathie Thompson said.
To accommodate for the need, Detroit ISD administration updated campus schedules and assessed interventions. The district will receive more than $1 million from ESSER funding, which it will use to help pay for the additional interventionists.
“We are utilizing those funds to maintain our staff level and provide extra pay for selected staff members hired to provide after school tutorials. DISD is very excited that we were able to hire an additional counselor to assist with the needs of our students. The ESSER funds are a one-time allotment to school districts, but we are thankful for the opportunity it is allowing us to provide some training for our paraprofessionals and teachers on how to provide high impact tutoring required by HB 4545,” Thompson said.
“While some of our test scores were not where we wanted them, DISD is very proud of the work put forth in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years by our parents, staff, students and school board to ensure our students continued on the path of academic and social-emotional success. Our community and district faced some very tough hurdles these past two years and rose to the challenge to support our kids,” she added.
Chisum ISD did not provide any specific numbers, but Superintendent Tommy Chalaire said all policies outlined by the state will be implemented.
“This is a document that is being changed day by day,” he said. “We are going to implement all the recommended policies and procedures and work everything we can into the school day and get students the resources they need to implement 4545 successfully.”
Clarksville ISD also did not provide specifics, although Superintendent Kermit Ward said the district unknowingly planned well to meet the requirements of HB 4545.
“Our current STAAR scores are not well, and we were not surprised by that,” Ward said. “Kids simply don’t recover from being out of school for five consecutive months last year and then having constant disruptions once we started back.”
The lack of classroom time validates the importance of in-class instruction with teachers, he said.
“If that does not demonstrate the value of teachers and what schools are all about, what does?” Ward said. “I like what TEA has done with HB 4545. I think it’s a really good thing, and I think we have unknowingly planned well for this, as we have added extra staff to our school district that will play a key role in supplementing the instructional intervention of academically at-risk students.”
The district hired three interventionists before it even knew about HB 4545, he said.