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The budget work is far from done

The Senate may have passed its budget via some creative interpretation of its rules, but there’s more to what has to happen now than just the conference committee. As Abby Rapoport notes, they still have to rewrite the formula for school finance.

You see, under current law, schools are entitled to a certain amount per student. Districts raise what they can with property taxes, and the state must pay for the rest. (For more on our troubled school finance system, read my March cover story.) The state can’t make good on those obligations, and for the first time in 60 years, we won’t automatically fund public schools.

When budget writers opted to cut from public schools in order to balance the budget, they knew that they would need extra legislation to change the school finance system. The House and Senate each have bills that cut the necessary amounts to schools in order to make their budgets’ respective cuts to school districts—$4 billion in the Senate and a whopping $8 billion in the House. Those bills are integral to the budgets that each chamber approved.

But as we knew back in February, these school finance bills will be hard to pass. In the House, Democratic Rep. Scott Hochberg’s bill isn’t even on the calendar yet. His bill tries to shield the poorest districts from cuts by putting all districts on a formula system. But that means that those school districts that have been living high on the hog will get slashed by huge percentages. It’s certainly not going to be an easy-pass in the House.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Education Chair Florence Shapiro’s bill hasn’t yet had the votes to come to the floor, and Democratic senators have a clear chance to block the bill.

Assuming the 2/3 rule is still in effect, of course. See here, here, and here for some background on Hochberg’s bill and the nature of how school finance currently works. All of this takes place against a background in which there have been over 12,000 documented job losses in public education in Texas, and that’s just scratching the surface. The worst is very much yet to come. A statement about the budget from Sen. Mario Gallegos is here, and one from Sen. Rodney Ellis is here.

Finally, on a related note, HB400, the bill to increase class sizes for grades K-4, which was derailed on a point of order last week, is on the House calendar for today. I suspect that without this bill, which has enough sponsors (all Republicans) to guarantee its passage, the rest of the pieces to redo school finance won’t fit. Keep an eye on this.

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