2013 Lege Wrap-Up: Public Education
As predicted, this session’s debates around school choice were used as a distraction from discussing real solutions to the state’s education challenges. Fortunately, all the different voucher proposals, which would divert state funds for public education to cover all or part of a student’s tuition at a private or religious school, were defeated. The legislature did pass a bill to expand charter schools in Texas, but through the hard work of advocates and parents some potentially harmful provisions were watered-down or eliminated altogether. The Governor is expected to sign this bill.
The final education budget includes $3.4 billion more than what was initially proposed, but fails to fully restore funding and does not bring per-student support back up to pre-recession levels. In the 2014-15 biennium, total education spending (state, local, and federal) will be $761 less per student than in the 2007-08 biennium, when adjusted for 2013 dollars.
The needs of economically disadvantaged students were not completely ignored this session – there was a lot of discussion about pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) and the Student Success Initiative – but little was ultimately done to restore funding to grant programs that assist low-income and academically struggling students. The 2011 Legislature eliminated $208.6 million from the Pre-K grant program that allowed districts to expand Pre-K from a half-day to a full-day. This session, $30 million was appropriated for Pre-K expansion, but it will run through entitlement formulas. When considering that the regular half-day Pre-K program saw at least an $88 million biennial cut in addition to the $208 million Pre-K grant cut, $30 million doesn’t make up much ground. The Student Success Initiative, a program that provides remediation to students at risk of repeating a grade, was cut by $263 million in 2011. The Legislature increased funding for this program by $19.5 million – but again that is far from where we were.
For our students, and ultimately the state, to be successful we need to meet the needs of all five million Texas school children. Fully funding our public schools is a key place to start.