Governor, Legislative Leaders Order More Budget Cuts Even Before Session Starts

More Budget Cuts Ordered Ahead of Legislative Session:  Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus Jr. have directed state agencies to come up with another round of budget cuts for the current fiscal year. The goal is to cut 2.5 percent more from the budget for the current biennium—in addition to the cuts that resulted from a similar directive last spring to cut 5 percent.

Once again, the triumvirate has exempted direct, per-pupil funding for school districts. Hence we can expect to see still sharper cuts in grant funding that flows from the state to school districts outside the per-pupil formula. The previous round of cuts already chopped funding for, among other things: mentoring new teachers; after-school programs; extra help for at-risk students; and science labs intended to help low-wealth districts provide the instruction needed for students to pass high-school graduation requirements.

One of the biggest chunks of state grant funding—nearly $400 million for the 2010-2011 biennium–is earmarked for the governor’s signature program of “performance pay” for teachers. Thus far, the budget-cutting exercise has barely touched this pet program—the largest state-level scheme of its kind in the nation, we are told.  A study commissioned by the state has just come out with a less-than-compelling endorsement of the program. The study found a slight advantage in students’ test scores at participating campuses but cautioned against making too much of that, considering all of the other factors affecting student outcomes. Still, you can count on hearing the study cited as proof that this program is a roaring success and must be spared from any significant cuts. We will be watching to see if vital programs like pre-kindergarten grants receive similar solicitude.