Texas’ top education officials told school district administrators Friday that they cannot use state funding to provide schooling for children housed in migrant shelters.
The announcement — issued in a letter sent to all school superintendents statewide — has raised concerns for both shelters and school districts, whose leaders say it highlights a broader pattern of push-and-pull between the state and federal government over regulating shelters.
Leo Lopez, the Texas Education Agency’s associate administrator for school funding, said in the letter that according to state law, Texas public schools can only fund education in shelters — where children are held by federal agencies — through external sources like tuition.
DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the agency, said in a statement that the responsibility of educating children in shelters “remains solely with the federal government.”
“These services are generally provided to students in its custody through its contractors,” Culbertson said in the statement. “Local school districts may choose to voluntarily provide services. However, such an arrangement would have to be worked out directly with federal officials.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandates that migrant shelters must provide children with six hours of schooling on weekdays as well as special education services. HHS did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Sal Cavazos, the vice president of educational services at Southwest Key, one of the companies that operates shelters for migrant children, said that partnerships with local school districts are needed in order to “enhance” the resources that it provides to children.
“It’s just disappointing that we cannot come together all hands on deck to work with and support these young people that find themselves in a very difficult situation,” he said.
Although Southwest Key receives funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement for the purposes of meeting the education requirement, its centers often rely on local school districts for additional benefits like special education and ESL classes, he said.
The TEA letter also said that school districts cannot count children in Texas shelters as their students in applications for state education funding.
The school district in San Benito had previously applied for an additional $2.8 million in funding from Texas by counting its students inside shelters, the Associated Press reported.
The broader conflict about whether state funding can be used highlights this muddled political issue with few clear lines about where federal and state responsibilities begin and end.
A TEA response to a complaint filed by Esperanza Zendejas, the superintendent of the Brownsville school district, said that “allegations related to educational services for students housed in temporary custody are handled by” HHS.
In June, the Texas State Teachers Association had penned a letter to Texas officials calling on the government to develop and fund a plan to educate the growing number of detained migrant children.
Disclosure: Jeff Eller, a communications adviser to Southwest Key, is a donor to and former board member of The Texas Tribune. The Texas State Teachers Association has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. The Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.