At a legislative briefing sponsored by the Texas Education Reformation Foundation today, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he was “more optimistic than a lot of people” about the budget situation for the 2012-2013 biennium. He cited accelerating gains in sales-tax revenue over the last three months as one cause for such optimism. He cited the highest figure we have yet heard for the amount of money available next biennium in the state’s Rainy Day Fund–$9.975 billion and rising. Indeed, according to Dewhurst, there’s reason to expect an actual increase of $2 billion in general revenue for public schools over the level of spending in the current biennium.
That’s certainly better than the cut of $3 billion to $5 billion that some have been forecasting for public education. However, it is important to recognize that almost $2 billion will be needed in the 2012-2013 biennium just to cover the per-pupil cost of rapidly increasing student enrollment in Texas public schools. So Dewhurst’s “more optimistic” forecast—though it’s the best we’ve heard lately—really is a prediction that funding for public schools will be at a standstill over the next two years. (What’s more, reading between the lines of his speech today, one can see the outlines of significant cuts in higher education, even if pre-K/12 education were to come through relatively unscathed. In upcoming Hotline coverage, we’ll have more to report on the legislative preview provided by Dewhurst and several state legislators.)