State 2018-19 Budget Bill Represents a Missed Opportunity; Accountability News

The 2018-19 state budget was approved Saturday by votes of 30 to 1 in the Texas Senate and 135 to 14 in the House. It amounts to a missed opportunity to improve funding for public schools as well as other vital public services.

The bill, SB 1, keeps per-pupil funding at the current level but reduces the state share of funding and relies on local property taxes to fill the gap. With school-finance increases held hostage by the Senate in a failed scheme to compel House passage of private-school vouchers, the bill provides for little or no improvement in funding adequacy and equity. Especially galling is the fact that this budget leaves some $11 billion unused while needlessly putting the squeeze on school budgets.

In constant dollars, adjusted for inflation, this budget actually cuts school funding as it drops the state’s share below 40 percent. It shortchanges schoolchildren and in effect raises taxes on local property owners–a negative outcome you can lay at the door of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Call it the Patrick “get less, pay more” plan, all in the service of his paramount education priority, which was a futile attempt to force enactment of private-school vouchers to funnel state dollars to unaccountable private operators.

Other parts of the education budget look a bit better. The budget preserves a state health plan for retired school employees, saving the program from insolvency for two more years, though costs for retirees will go up, especially sharply for those not yet Medicare-eligible. The budget bill also provide a modest funding boost for community colleges and an increase in access to financial aid for college students. Universities avoid deep Senate-proposed funding cuts in the final version of the budget passed Saturday.

In other news from the state Capitol, a House-Senate conference committee late Saturday night came up with a compromise on A-F school ratings that tweaks the system and postpones implementation of campus A-F ratings until the 2018-19 school year. Both chambers will have to vote on the revised accountability model by midnight Sunday, the day before the current legislative session ends. In Monday’s Hotline you can expect more details on this tweaked version of the state accountability policy, which includes some brand-new language on local alternative options for school ratings.