Unpacking the 88th Legislature: Public School Funding

This week, we’ll provide some insight into the Texas school finance system, explore why the Texas Legislature did not use the historic $33 billion surplus to address the “teacher vacancy crisis” or give you a raise, and explain what’s next in our fight for respect and for fully funding our classrooms.

Heading into the 88th legislative session, the Texas Legislature had a historic surplus of almost $33 billion. For context, that’s larger than the entire budgets of 24 states. Of this amount, budget writers started this session with a stated intention to appropriate approximately $5 billion for:

  • – increasing funding for public schools by updating allotments in the school finance system to account for the inflation since they were last updated 
  • – providing educators and school employees with raises 

Unpacking the Legislature

Read our other breakdowns of public education issues:

School Safety
School Employee Pay
Educator Recruitment
Educator Retirement
Higher Education

Whenever school finance comes up in conversations with legislators or with reporters, we hear the same question: How much inflation has there actually been since 2019 when the basic allotment was set to $6,160?

Thus far, the figure that has been widely quoted in 2023 is 14.5% inflation since 2019. However, the actual inflation rate is closer to 20% when using the latest inflation data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Texas AFT’s Lost Decade research conducted with Every Texan (which has been updated through the 2022-2023 school year) shows that Texas teachers’ average annual salary has decreased by 9.1% on average since the 2009-2010 school year, after adjusting for inflation.

What Passed … or Didn’t

HB 100 by Chairman Ken King (R-Canadian) was the major school finance legislation in the regular session. While it was an imperfect bill, it would have increased education funding. However even this imperfect solution didn’t pass the Legislature thanks to some late-session voucher meddling by the Senate (more on that below).

The House version of HB 100 as passed out of the House (called the “engrossed” version) had a fiscal note of $5.4 billion. It included:

  • a modest basic allotment increase ($140 over the upcoming biennium, $90 in FY 24 and $50 in FY 25 — not enough but more than any other proposal) 
  • a transition to enrollment-based funding for certain allotments, including special education, bilingual education, and compensatory education 
  • increased weights for various allotments based on the basic allotment (such as Career & Technology Education, or CTE), which will generate additional revenue for school districts 
  • much-need improvements to special education funding following the findings of the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding 
  • increased funding for the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) and expanded eligibility to nationally board certified teachers 
  • replacement of the minimum salary schedule with a new ladder-like system that establishes minimum salary steps based on ranges of years of experience and certification level that would cap the minimum salary schedule at 10 years of experience, no longer recognizing educators for each year of experience (Texas AFT remains opposed to these provisions) 
  •  increased funding for the mentorship allotment 
  • a new teacher residency program 
  • increased funding for rural and small & midsize school districts  
  • a rural pathways program 

Originally, the bill excluded support staff from the mechanism in statute that triggers raises for employees when the basic allotment is increased, but Texas AFT members fought for that language to be restored — and succeeded.

The inadequate $5 billion that the Legislature initially proposed in the state budget, HB 1, was woefully inadequate when it would have taken a $14.5 billion increase in the basic allotment just to account for the impact of 14.5% inflation alone. 

But even that inadequate $5 billion was hijacked and held hostage for vouchers at the end of session in a cynical move by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), after the House repeatedly rejected so-called “school choice” or “educational freedom” in the form of educational savings accounts (ESAs). Creighton added an expensive voucher provision to HB 100. Rather than submitting to the Senate’s hostage demands, King proudly took a bold stand for public education and killed his own school finance bill. 

Why It Happened?

With a historic surplus, the Texas House celebrated Speaker Dade Phelan’s leadership and went home after adjourning Sine Die without having passed legislation infusing any additional funding into the public education system or providing educators with any raise.

The dysfunction in the Texas Legislature on school finance and the utter failure of our elected officials to live up to their campaign promises on educator and school employee raises fly in the face of TEA’s own Teacher Vacancy Crisis Task Force, which recommends increasing compensation and updating the basic allotment among its top policy proposals for addressing our school staffing crisis, which we know also applies to other essential school employees such as bus drivers and custodians. 

While the $5 billion the Texas Legislature initially appropriated was inadequate, and that amount shrunk to $4 billion and was held hostage in the regular session, the governor has signaled he is not giving up on his voucher scheme. Even though our public schools are desperate for any additional funding the Legislature can provide to keep up with the costs of inflation, Abbott stated that a school finance bill in an upcoming special session will be “poison-pilled” with vouchers. 

All of these developments raise a question for Texas educators: Have we really seen the largest raises the Texas Legislature has to offer from this $33 billion surplus in HB 100 as it passed the House? 

With that $5 billion available for increasing funding for additional school funding and raises shrinking to $4 billion, and HB 100 (as passed by the House) having a larger fiscal note than $4 billion ($5.4 billion), does that mean that we will receive even smaller raises than initially promised even though inflation is now closer to 20% than 14.5%? The 88th regular legislative session left us with more questions than answers.

What Legislators Are Saying

While HB 100 as it passed the House was imperfect and included provisions that Texas AFT remains opposed to, it represented a step forward and a system designed with a vision for the future of Texas public education in which the state truly strives to meet school districts’ (and thus, students’ and educators’) needs. 

Texas AFT is endlessly grateful to the legislators who truly fought for public education in the 88th legislative session, to those who spent political capital and took risks in order to prioritize public education funding.

One such legislator was Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas), who sat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Bryant was recognized on Texas Monthly’s top 10 best legislators list due to his outspoken support for public education. As the Texas Monthly article report: 

“He impressed and unnerved his colleagues by making Texas education commissioner Mike Morath squirm over the sad state of education funding during a hearing on the budget. Bryant’s genial but ruthless grilling of witnesses earned him a visit from a Democrat cozy with House leadership. Would he please stop asking so many questions? It was upsetting the Republican chairman and jeopardizing certain Democrats’ pet legislation. Bryant declined the request.”

Every legislator claims to recognize the importance of school finance, but few legislators exercise their power to its fullest extent in support of public education.

What to Expect Next

On Monday, June 12, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan appointed members to serve on the newly created House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, including close Texas AFT allies State Reps. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) and James Talarico (D-Austin). 

The House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Freedom is set to meet July 11 and 12 for their first public hearings, and they are expected to only hear invited testimony in these hearings. However, we anticipate that members of the public will have the opportunity to submit electronic public comments, and we need you to make a plan now to make your voice heard by submitting a comment in a few weeks letting the committee know that you need a raise and oppose vouchers.

For his part, Gov. Greg Abbott has already said that he expects the school finance and raise bill to look like HB 100 and for the legislation to include an ESA provision like was added in the Senate. Abbott does not control the Texas Legislature, but thus far, Democrats have been reluctant to exercise the leverage available to them as the minority party, and it is unclear how long the bipartisan coalition opposed to ESAs in the Texas House will hold.

Many of the same legislators who campaigned for your vote touting their support for public education and raises for school personnel are the same ones who fought for tax cuts instead of schools. They failed our schools. 

Unless they take a real stand for public education in an upcoming special session, the legacy of this Texas Legislature will be more school closures, more teachers buying school supplies out of pocket, and a wave of new teacher retirements like we saw after the 2021-2022 school year. With a historic surplus available to us, we believe that this abdication of duty during the regular session is unacceptable and legislators must be held accountable.

Between now, the upcoming special session on school finance, and the November 2024 elections, we will continue to work at the Capitol in Austin and our communities across the state for respect, for fully funding our classrooms, and for the compensation and working conditions that we deserve.