TEXAS AFT LEGISLATIVE HOTLINE
MONDAY, JANUARY 14, 2013
House and Senate Unveil Budget Starting Points-Continuing the Cuts in Education, Even Though More Than Enough Money is Available to Restore Funding
Public education got the cold shoulder Monday from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and his appointee as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands, as they unveiled the Senate's starting-point plan for the state budget for 2014-2015. Despite the availability of more than enough money to undo the damaging biennial cuts of $5.4 billion in public education enacted in 2011, the Senate offered a plan that would restore nothing-zero-for public schools, continuing the cuts for two more years at the same destructive level. Like the Senate proposal, the House plan announced at the same time by Appropriations Committee chair Jim Pitts, Republican of Waxahachie, also does not restore the funding that was cut in 2011.
Last school year the 2011 education cuts chopped more than 25,000 jobs from school-district rosters, including more than 10,000 teaching slots. Waivers of class-size caps in grades K-4 more than tripled, and all state grants for full-day pre-kindergarten were eliminated (along with nearly all Student Success Initiative funding, which provided extra help for students struggling to pass state exams).
Responding to the release of the initial 2014-2015 budget proposals, Texas AFT President Linda Bridges said:
"The Texas House and Senate budget bills announced today would continue deep cuts in public education for another two years-in spite of the availability of resurgent state revenue that makes it possible to undo those damaging cuts. While the authors stress that they cover 'enrollment growth' in public education in these budget plans, the truth is that funding per pupil would stay at the same reduced level established two years ago. Thus, their plans would continue the cuts of more than $500 per pupil enacted in 2011.
"The best that can be said for today's initial spending plans is that they are just the starting point, not the ending point, for writing the 2014-2015 budget. Texas can do better. The money is there. What's needed is the will to make the needed investment in our schoolchildren and our state's future."
The next step will be the introduction of House and Senate bills (to be labeled HB 1 and SB 1) that would implement the proposals sketched out today. In dollar terms, these proposals leave more than $23 billion in available revenue unspent. While $6 billion of that total will likely end up being used in a supplemental spending bill just to cover already-promised health and education spending for fiscal 2013, some $17 billion would still remain for 2014-2015--more than sufficient to reverse the harsh budget cuts passed in 2011, not just in education but also in other vital state services.