On Aug. 18, the Legislative Budget Board and Governor’s budget office released budget instructions and the policy letter that has become the standard method for directly communicating the leadership’s intentions to state agencies. Under more ordinary circumstances, these would have been distributed in June. The instructions come after Comptroller Glenn Hegar in July projected a $4.6 billion shortfall for current budget cycle, a significant swing from the estimated $3 billion surplus forecast last October. This does not reflect any anticipated shortfall for the upcoming biennium, for which the legislature will adopt a budget during the 87th session, which begins in January.

Despite the revenue uncertainty that may unfold in the coming months, or perhaps because of it, agencies are not being required to ask for less money for 2022-23 than is currently budgeted for 2020-21. Any requests for more money, including a restoration of the 5% cut ordered earlier this year, must be submitted as exceptional items.

Exceptions to the flat-line requirement are listed in the policy letter, and include maintaining funding for the Foundation School Program under current law, and maintaining funding at fiscal year 2021 budgeted levels plus amounts necessary to cover the impact of payroll growth for state pension systems and employee group benefits, though group benefit modifications may be considered.

With every budget cycle, TCTA urges Education Commissioner Mike Morath to include increased funding for school employee health insurance in TEA's exceptional items (though the statewide plan, TRS-ActiveCare, is administered through TRS, the funding for health insurance runs through the school finance formulas in the TEA budget). This year, we are also urging that the money TEA received from the federal CARES Act remain part of public education funding.