House to debate its version of the budget, while #StopTheSwap issues are ‘a topic of major discussion’

Education Commissioner Mike Morath (right) updates SBOE members on federal funding.

The House version of the state budget will likely be debated on the floor Thursday after the budget bill passed through the House Appropriations Committee last week. The $246.7 billion proposal for the biennium will eventually need to be reconciled with the Senate’s version at $250.7 billion.

The House plan continues the investments made to school finance from 2019’s HB 3, and passed a supplemental bill to plug holes in the existing budget, amounting to $5.5 billion, with additional state revenue generated this year.

Still left unaddressed is the $17.9 billion in federal aid to Texas schools. The money is meant to invest in our schools, which have faced additional costs from the pandemic, as well as providing a boost for learning initiatives to ensure students make up any lost academic ground in the past year. Texas AFT has led the charge to ensure that this money isn’t supplanted, meaning that funds should go directly to schools as new money instead of being used for existing budget needs. You can send an online letter telling your lawmakers to #StopTheSwap. (The House budget bill does have a rider that specifies that these funds be used as intended by Congress.)

On Wednesday, Education Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the State Board of Education on the federal funds. “I know this has been a major topic of discussion,” Morath told board members. He said the holdup on getting funds to schools is based on “very complicated” requirements tied to the funding—including a link between K-12 and higher education ensuring that both are not subject to reductions in funding proportionally. The fact that K-12 received an enormous bump in state funding with HB 3 just before the pandemic, while higher education did not, has created a “conundrum,” he said.

Morath said that as a “state employee” he can’t advocate on the issue directly but that he is having ongoing discussions with officials to “resolve this problem as quickly as possible.” That’s where you come in. We can advocate. We need to keep the pressure on to get these funds distributed and ensure they go where intended. Send your letter to lawmakers now!