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Textbook Registry for School Districts Hit by Harvey Catches Criticism

Workmen remove books from the flood-damaged Forest Brook Middle School in Houston last week.

When Hurricane Harvey destroyed school buildings in Texas, the storm also decimated the textbooks and other instructional materials inside. The state's education agency, instead of ordering replacements, has set up a textbook registry for potential donors to fill.

Here's how it works: Districts that lost textbooks in the storm can list the titles, ISBN numbers, cost, and quantity of those materials in a "needs list" on the Texas Education Agency website. Districts unaffected by the storm can donate any books they have to spare. So can textbook publishers, organizations, and good Samaritans everywhere.

"The purpose of this process is to connect those wanting to help with districts in need," reads the state education agency's online guide to creating a "needs list." "Think of it as an instructional materials gift registry!"

But as the Houston Chronicle reports, some are critical of the tactic, arguing that the registry soliciting donations will only delay the delivery of textbooks to schools that have already suffered so much. Students meanwhile will pay the price in loss of solid instructional time.

"If we had books that have been destroyed, then the state needs to step up and take care of that problem," Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, the chair of the state house's public education committee, told the newspaper. Huberty suggested the state immediately replace the books rather than wait on donations.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath conceded that the registry isn't helpful to schools that need the books right away, but defended it as a solid long-term solution that could ultimately help to divert money into much needed new construction. (Education officials in Houston estimate a $700 million price tag to repair and replace schools damaged by Harvey.) Morath also touted the registry as a benefit for taxpayers.

"Every item that is donated is one less item the taxpayer needs to pay for," Morath told the Chronicle.

Currently, 11 districts have posted needs lists in the state's registry. The requests range from elementary school readers to math, science, financial literacy, marketing, and criminal justice textbooks. 

The "needs list" for Humble Independent School District in the Houston metropolitan area is six pages long, totaling $730,328.71.The grand total for all needs lists submitted by the Texas districts hit by Harvey is $1,916,093.24, but some of their requested items have been fulfilled, according to Kelly Callaway, the senior director of instructional materials at the Texas Education Agency.

Photo: Workmen remove books from the flood-damaged Forest Brook Middle School in Houston last week. (Erich Schlegel for Education Week)


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