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What the decision to use Rainy Day funds means for school districts

From School Zone:

As you might know by now — unless you’re tuning out the news over spring break — the House Appropriations Committee, with Gov. Rick Perry’s blessing, agreed to spend up to $3.2 billion from the rainy-day fund to balance the state budget this fiscal year.

What does this mean for public education?

The short answer, for HISD, is not much.

The initial House budget for the biennium proposes slashing $9.8 billion — or about $5 billion a year — from the main public education fund.

Rebecca Flores, Houston ISD’s director of governmental relations, gives us a math lesson. With the newfound $2 billion, the House’s cut to public education goes down to $7.8 billion. If lawmakers decide to delay payments to districts (an accounting trick of sorts), generating $2.5 billion (her best guess), that leaves a $5.3 billion hit to public ed statewide.

HISD’s chief financial officer, Melinda Garrett, has been basing her budget for the district on the state cutting public ed by $5 billion — a pretty good guess based on the current House numbers. With that estimate, Garrett has been predicting that HISD could be $171 million short next year, receiving $160 million less in state funding while having to cover $11 million in increased “fixed” expenses such as health insurance and utilities.

In other words, we’re about where HISD thought we’d be. There are still things that can happen to affect this – the Senate is actively looking for revenue in a variety of places, for instance. If they succeed, and if the House, whose budget is currently much more penurious, goes along, and if Governor Perry doesn’t veto anything, then HISD’s shortfall (and every other school district’s) might wind up smaller still. But that’s a lot of ifs.

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