Education agencies urge state budget officials to restore funding after cuts this year

Leaders of the state’s education agencies and state schools told budget officials Thursday that funding cuts of 5% mandated earlier this year needed to be restored to provide vital services to their constituents.

The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) held public budget hearings and heard from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD), Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS), The Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), as well as state colleges and universities throughout the day. Each agency outlined key appropriation asks and priorities for the coming budget cycle. The narrative for most of the agency requests followed the same pattern, an acknowledgment of the state’s economic trouble followed by a plea to restore cuts that agencies were asked to take because of the budget shortfall. 

Superintendents from the TSD and TSBVI both testified about the difficulties facing their students in light of COVID-19 and how the services provided by their schools are needed now more than ever. Both superintendents say that without without restoring funding from budget cuts they will not be able to meet the needs of students and families in the state and our state’s most vulnerable students will suffer. 

Education Commissioner Mike Morath with TEA said his core request was a continuation of the funding already provided, incorporating the 5% cut and the funding of the Foundation School Program. However, Morath asked for additional funding for impacts of the pandemic, and he called attention to how disproportionate the effect of COVID-19 is on middle and low-income students, with heavier burdens on low-income students. The additional funding would be a targeted investment in these students, he stated. 

Brain Guthrie, TRS executive director, outlined a request for a modest increase in funding, focusing on maintaining the state’s contribution to the retirement system, as well as its contribution to the TRS-managed healthcare programs. The request also included $3 million in administrative costs for opening a pilot office in El Paso and $5.8 million for 25 new employees, which he said would help the agency save millions more in the future.

THECB is requesting the restoration of the funding and $110 million to be approved to help keep up with the growing need for financial aid, as well as funding for specific programs. Harrison Keller, commissioner of higher education, said the additional funding includes money for upskilling and reskilling adult learners seeking further education—an important investment in the state’s economic rebound—and money for improving and supporting data security and system development. Keller’s concerns over resources for financial aid and improving programs for students were echoed by many of the university and college presidents who testified after him.