Finding funding for instructional materials — something that has historically been done by the state — has become a difficult task for Texas school districts.
During their board workshop last Monday, the Bryan school district board of trustees unanimously approved a purchasing agreement of over $50,000 to be used on kindergarten through fifth grade ELAR/SLAR instructional materials.
While a similar agreement was approved by the board in 2019, Barbara Ybarra, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning, said circumstances have changed.
“Instructional materials are typically and historically purchased by the state of Texas for all school districts,” Ybarra said. “It is a separate fund outside of the district’s local budget and so in 2019 we came to the board seeking approval of the teachers’ request to move forward with [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company] for our [English Language Arts] instructional materials.”
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With the establishment of the Instructional Materials Allotment [ILA], the district has been called to make arrangements with vendors rather than telling the Texas Education Agency what materials are needed.
“While that’s wonderful and it blends instructional materials along with technology, it has been lacking in full funding,” Ybarra said. “As we come to these adoptions now, the district has money at the state where we have to discern which vendor will we go, with what’s approved by TEA and how many copies — digital and print — will we purchase?”
Eight-year agreements were once typical, but the state has begun pushing for 10- and 12-year cycles. With a commitment to being respectful of taxpayer dollars, Ybarra said the district does not want to purchase eight years of print materials that will sit on a shelf unused.
“The good news is the teachers adore these materials, and they use them all of the time,” Ybarra said.
She added that ELA is typically the most expensive adoption, and when the board approved it, it was considering sixth through eighth grades. This led the district to move forward with an eight-year digital agreement adoption, as well as four years of print materials.
Now that the district is being tasked with paying for the print materials, the lack of state funding has become a larger issue.
“Unfortunately, the Instructional Materials Allotment has been dwindling with each biennium and we’ve gotten fewer and fewer funds from the state to fund all of the proclamations as well as the technology purchases,” Ybarra said. “Specifically, this last biennium, it was severely cut and it was not funded to the extent that we have seen ever.”
This means that many districts have to use local dollars to cover these purchases that were previously covered by the state. To add to it, multiyear contracts cannot be made with federal funding.
Ybarra said the district worked with its vendor, HMH, which said it is hearing this same complaint from multiple districts across the state. Therefore, the company agreed to a four-year plan, but it must be billed annually to leverage federal funding such as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief [ESSER] fund.
ELA/R Elementary Coordinator Charlene Muehlstein worked with teachers and campus administrators to refine the quotes to ensure there was not any excess, Ybarra said. After going back and forth with HMH, they agreed to a four-year contract totaling $779,076.12, with $194,769.03 to be paid annually.
The first year [due Feb. 26, 2023] will be funded from ESSER II with the second payment [due Oct. 1, 2024] coming from ESSER III. From there, the district will know whether more state funding has come across or if it needs to seek funds elsewhere.
“At that point, we are very optimistic and hopeful that we will see an increase in funding in the IMA, and perhaps we can return to that,” Ybarra said. “If not, we can set aside funds in Title I and State Comp-Ed [Compensatory Education] to cover the expenditures for the two additional years.”
When board member Leo Gonzalez II posed questions regarding the amount of money these instructional materials cost, Ybarra and Superintendent Ginger Carrabine put him at ease by stating that the cost is typical, but paying for the materials has become an issue across the state.
“To remind you, when we talked about legislative priorities and funding sources and school finance and all the cuts, IMA is a line item for every school district right now; we’re all having this conversation right now,” Carrabine said. “They’ve simply cut us so severely that everyone’s struggling to purchase instructional materials.”
Board Vice President Deidra Davis echoed this sentiment.
“It’s very depressing or sad just thinking about the funding that was cut, but the encouraging side is that this is heavily utilized by our students, and the teachers love it,” Davis said.
Ybarra agreed with Davis, stating that is the “saving grace” where funding is concerned.