Budget deal cuts $4 billion from public ed; fight over vouchers, HB400 may erupt Sunday

The House put off a fight over vouchers and an attempt to resurrect House Bill 400 on Friday, as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus announced that the House and Senate had struck a deal on a new state budget for 2012-2013. There weren’t a lot of details immediately available, but apparently the budget will cut $4 billion from public education over the next two years, a figure similar to what the Senate approved in its budget bill.

That would make this the first state budget since 1984-85 that doesn’t fully fund the school finance formulas and meet anticipated enrollment growth, about 170,000 new students over the next two years. This is how the $4 billion shortage is calculated.

Meanwhile, after debating until 1 a.m. Saturday, the House passed SB1811, a fiscal matters bill essential to the budget deal. There weren’t any attempts to attach vouchers and House Bill 400 language to this bill. But those amendments are expected to be offered, perhaps as early as Sunday, to another fiscal matters bill, SB1581, dealing with school finance.

The Senate passed SB1581 Friday night, after stripping it of an amendment that would have allowed guns on college campuses. That amendment had delayed action on SB1581 in the House on Thursday. Senators then amended the bill to include new school finance provisions before sending it back to the House. A few hours later, about midnight, it was given quick approval by the House Public Education Committee, on a 6-4 party line vote. Six Republicans voted for the bill, and four Democrats voted against it. Chairman Rob Eissler said he will offer his HB400 as an amendment to SB1581 on the floor. Other Republicans are expected to offer a voucher amendment.

Please urge your members to continue calling their state representatives, demanding votes AGAINST amendments to create a voucher program, virtual vouchers or impose the HB400 provisions, including an increase in the 22-1 class size cap for K-4 and other provisions making it easier for school districts to fire teachers or cut their pay.