Texas House releases initial look at budget with billions of new money for public education

Both chambers of the Texas Legislature signaled this week their serious intent to increase state funding for public education. This auspicious, yet preliminary, start reflects the public’s strong statement at the ballot box that Texas must do more to fund our public schools. In today’s Hotline, we’ll focus on the House proposal, with information about Senate in tomorrow’s edition. A note of caution that these bills are just the first step in a long, legislative process, and it’s early enough in the session that everything is subject to change.

Caveats aside, the Texas House on Monday proposed increasing general revenue funding for the Foundation School Program by $7.4 billion from the 2018-2019 biennium. When it comes to school finance, there are a lot of moving pieces where the devil may hide (revenue sources/weights/recapture/local property tax “relief”/etc.), but the House proposal represents an increase, above and beyond growth, in school funding coming from the state. We’re encouraged.

In addition to the statutorily required 1.25 percent of payroll, the House proposal also includes funding from the Rainy Day Fund to help maintain current premiums for retirees (TRS-Care). As every retiree remembers, health-care costs for retirees jumped up significantly in the last biennium, while benefits were also cut. Regarding the TRS pension fund itself, the House plan calls for the state to contribute only the current statutory share of 6.8% of payroll. The state must increase its contribution to begin to close the huge gap between Texas and every other state in terms of employer pension contribution–and to make cost-of-living increases a reality for retirees.

While the House budget document is far from perfect, Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro said he hopes the base budget indicates the state is emerging from a decade of neglect of public schools, educators and employees. “A confluence of newfound political will, additional revenue, newly elected legislators and the hangover from the last session’s rancorous brawling has set the table for doing something good for every child in this state,” Malfaro said. “The first draft of the budget represents an opportunity for those of us who have worked hard to elect pro-public education leaders in both parties and build the broad coalitions we need to get Texas moving forward when it comes to investing in kids and educators.”