Update on Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); First look at education costs to state from Hurricane Harvey

Update on Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): If the U.S. Congress does not quickly renew the expired authority for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, hundreds of thousands of Texas schoolchildren from low-income working families are going to lose their health coverage by next February. That’s when the state would run out of CHIP funds if Congress fails to extend the program that expired September 30, at the end of the 2017 federal fiscal year. There continues to be much talk in Congress of bipartisan support for CHIP, but so far that has not translated into fast corrective action.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten today called on congressional leaders to put a bill to renew CHIP on the floor immediately. She said:

The Children’s Health Insurance Program is critical to keeping kids healthy and ready to learn. It has received strong bipartisan support since its creation in 1997, and we have seen over the last 20 years how important it is, which is why we are asking Congress to act immediately to extend it….Letting CHIP expire puts in jeopardy the health and well-being of nine million children who regularly rely on the program for routine checkups, immunizations, medicine, dental care, and eyeglasses. Without these services, nine million kids could go to school sick or unable to read or engage because they need glasses, have ear infections, or have toothaches. Children can’t learn if their health needs are not being properly met.

First look at education costs to state from Hurricane Harvey: Yesterday at a House Appropriations Committee hearing in Houston state Comptroller Glenn Hegar warned that “the large cost to the state” from Hurricane Harvey “will be in public education.” Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath followed up by giving the committee an inkling of just how bad the budget damage could be by the time the Legislature reconvenes for its regular session in 2019.

Morath said that the state would likely end up having to spend $400 million from state coffers just to make up for the loss of local funding due to student enrollment decline during the 2017-2018 school year. Morath’s Texas Education Agency could also end up having to make up for reduced local tax revenue due to the hurricane’s effect on property values. The commissioner estimated that for erstwhile property-wealthy districts alone the state could end up on the hook for $974 million. He said these districts’ share of the student population affected by Hurricane Harvey was 26 percent. If the state gave proportionate relief to the rest of the affected districts, the tab could go much higher.

Yet another $266 million would be required to cover the higher costs of educating students now rendered homeless or economically disadvantaged as a result of the hurricane. Additional costs yet to be determined would be incurred for students newly eligible for state-funded pre-K because they are now homeless or economically disadvantaged. Other storm-recovery costs incurred by school districts and regional education service centers also could be picked up by the state.

The upshot is that—even though federal emergency aid will cover a lot of the cost of services like debris removal and infrastructure repairs—the state too will bear significant costs eventually, and the state tab for public education alone could run into billions of dollars. Just the readily calculable state costs tallied by Commissioner Morath at Monday’s hearing will exceed $1.6 billion.

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