Senate Finance Panel Advances Education Budget Plan With Deep Cuts, Plus a Wish List

Yesterday evening a subcommittee of the Senate’s budget-writing Senate Finance Committee approved a preliminary version of the Senate’s budget plan for public education. It’s not a pretty picture. This plan, which goes to the full committee tomorrow, would cut $4 billion—close to $400 per pupil—from the state aid school districts receive to carry out their mission of educating Texas schoolchildren. The cut in funding for some districts would be as high as 9 percent, and most districts would take a hit of 6 percent or more.  The subcommittee plan also chops more than $1 billion from state grant funding for programs like pre-kindergarten expansion. That pre-k program’s $200 million in funding would be wiped out entirely, unless some of it can be restored by way of a “wish list” of contingency items the senators have created in case the Senate comes up with more money. (Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., Democrat of Brownsville, was particularly insistent on keeping the issue of restoring pre-k funding alive.) The Student Success Initiative to help students at risk of failing state exams also would suffer deep cuts; Sen. Royce West, Democrat of Dallas, led an effort that staved off even deeper cuts in this program.

Also on the “wish list” would be:  $800 million more for school districts’ per-pupil aid; $832 million in federal “education jobs” money as yet unclaimed by Gov. Rick Perry because he refuses to make necessary assurances that the state won’t use the money as an excuse for more state cutbacks; and funding to finance expansion of charter schools.

Much of today’s discussion revolved around small adjustments within the $400 million left to spend for grant funding after more than $1 billion was chopped. Sen. Florence Shapiro, Republican of Plano, chair of the subcommittee, put in several million dollars to fund a proposed new state center on efficiency and productivity in education, which would be created by her SB 872. Sen. Robert Duncan, Republican of Lubbock, succeeded in moving $30 million out of the DATE performance-pay program and into dropout-prevention programs, which would now receive a total of $50 million (still down $40 million from the current budget). Duncan voiced particular interest in steering the restored dropout-prevention money to the Communities in Schools program.  The DATE bonus program would receive $125 million, down from nearly $400 million in the current budget.

Having passed this budget plan for education in subcommittee, Republican senators led by Sen. Shapiro held a press conference this morning to declare that they want school districts to minimize cuts to classroom teachers and direct services to students as looming state budget cuts are absorbed on the local level. But exhortations like that will get you only so far; meanwhile legislation making it easier for districts to implement reductions in force, impose salary cuts, and institute unpaid furloughs is in play in both the Senate and the House.