If nothing else, Texas legislators are champions of hyperbole and proponents of Texas “exceptionalism.” But Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, the Senate’s chief budget writer, was mainly corny when she predicted the new state budget “will make Texas proud.”
What actually will happen if Nelson and her Senate colleagues have their way with the education portion of the budget is that many Texans will be angry that their public schools remain under-funded while their local school property taxes continue to rise.
Nelson is one of ten legislators (five from the Senate and five from the House) who will spend the next few weeks trying to hammer out a new, two-year state budget, a compromise between the two versions already approved by each legislative chamber. One of the major differences is on public education.
The Senate has approved a budget that likely would have the effect of reducing state education funding even more, when inflation and enrollment growth – about 80,000 to 85,000 additional students each year – are considered. That would mean the burden on homeowners and other property owners, who already pay for more than half of public education costs, would continue to grow.
The House would increase the state’s share of public school funding by about $1.6 billion by tapping into the Rainy Day Fund, a state savings account that has swelled to almost $12 billion. The House also has approved a separate bill that would begin overhauling the inadequate and outdated school finance system, a reality that the Senate leadership so far chooses to ignore.
The House bill doesn’t provide for a long-term solution to education funding, but it represents a start toward fulfilling the state’s constitutional responsibility to adequately support its public education system.
The House leadership recognizes that public school funding has become an emergency, something that the Rainy Day Fund was established to address. The Senate leadership believes its only “emergency” is to please a loud chorus of ideologues intent on shrinking government, beginning with education.
If legislators really want to make Texans proud and Texas exceptional, they will take the House’s budget lead this session and begin restoring and improving the financial foundation of Texas public schools.