In a preview of the upcoming state legislative session, which begins Jan. 12, 2021, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson warned that she would begin her examination of state agency budgets at “zero.”

In a letter to a fellow senator who had asked her about budget cuts for state agencies, Nelson noted that the legislature would have a clearer picture of the state’s economic forecast when Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar releases a revised revenue estimate this summer. She touted the fiscal conservatism of the Senate’s budget-writing process, but said this session they would have to take their customary fiscal restraint “a step further.”

“As I meet with each agency to review their appropriation requests, I will begin at ZERO,” Nelson said. “We will add restricted appropriations to that amount, and then examine each and every request before adding it to our base bill that I will file during session. The bill I file will adhere to both constitutional spending limits, as well as my depression-era parents’ philosophy of ‘If you don’t have it, you shouldn’t spend it.”

Though not a direct response to Nelson’s comments, House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty wrote an opinion piece to affirm the state’s commitment to public education and to reject attempts to politicize school funding. “Will Texas have to tighten its belt? Yes, of course. However, I believe that members of both parties will insist that we prioritize spending on public education. To try and suggest otherwise is to try and make something hyper-partisan that deserves better treatment.” Huberty has said that one of his priorities for 2021 is to protect and build on the work that the legislature did in creating and funding the programs in House Bill 3.

School leaders are concerned about state and local budgets for the coming school year and into the future. The Council of the Great City Schools, which comprises the largest districts in the country including many Texas urban districts, has written to Congress to request additional funding for schools in the next coronavirus supplemental appropriations bill. “…[D]ark clouds are forming on the educational horizon that will spell disaster if Congress does not intervene. Significant revenue shortfalls are looming for local school districts that will exacerbate the disruption students have already faced. Some 40 to 50 percent of school district revenues, in fact, come from local sources that are expected to drop precipitously in the months ahead. This revenue decline will come on top of revenue losses in the months to come from state sources that have been more widely reported. Several big city school districts are now projecting 15 to 25 percent cuts in overall revenues going into next school year.” 

TCTA will continue working with state and federal lawmakers to prioritize public education funding and protect the rights and needs of teachers and their students.