School-Finance Plans Illustrate Disastrous Consequences of Cuts-Alone Budget

State Rep. Scott Hochberg has introduced a couple of school-finance bills that paint a vivid picture of what the proposed state budget would require. With a cut of nearly $10 billion in state school funding, one of two bad things must happen. Either local property taxes would have to climb one-third or more to make up for missing state support (HB 2484)—or school districts would have to absorb huge losses of revenue (HB 2485), amounting to well over a thousand dollars per pupil for many districts. And those losses don’t even take into account more than a billion dollars in grant funding for school districts.

Gov. Rick Perry has been exhorting legislators to keep pressing for more cuts instead of backing revenue measures to fill the budget hole. But his own appointee as state commissioner of education, Robert Scott, has repeatedly told lawmakers that the public schools of Texas cannot accomplish their mission unless at least $6 billion of the proposed cuts in state aid for school districts can be restored.

Hochberg said in presenting his illustrative budget options that he didn’t want his fellow legislators to vote on the plan to cut $10 billion without knowing beforehand what it would mean specifically for the school districts in their area. Now they know.

Our schools face a revenue shortfall of $10 billion for 2012-2013 largely because of a misbegotten legislative tax swap that cut property taxes in 2006 without producing enough replacement revenue from a new business tax. This situation sadly bears out the forecast that Texas AFT President Linda Bridges made at the time, as she explained Texas AFT’s opposition to the 2006 legislation:  “Our schoolchildren were left with meager new funding and a big target on them for future cuts when the unfunded tax cuts promised in this plan come due….We need lasting solutions for our school finance problem, not a quick sugar fix that leaves our schools on a starvation diet for the future.…lawmakers will face a budget crisis created by the unfunded promise of property-tax reduction made in the bills passed this session.”