The Texas House passed its version of the state budget (SB 1) late Thursday night. With fewer fireworks than usual, lawmakers adopted 146 amendments to the bill, though it is expected that many, if not most, of them will disappear in negotiations with the Senate.

The budget fully funds last session’s school finance reforms and includes additional funding for enrollment growth. It also addresses additional funding for growth in TRS contributions, including the increased rate of state contributions approved in SB 12 last session.

Federal funds

There was a great deal of discussion about the tens of billions of dollars in anticipated federal funds from the COVID relief packages passed by Congress that are not addressed in the budget. House Appropriations Committee Chair Greg Bonnen fielded questions during the initial layout of the bill and during the many amendments that were filed to address how decisions should be made regarding the distribution and use of the funds.

Most of the amendments passed, and the conference committee of House and Senate members named to negotiate the final version of the bill will need to wade through several competing proposals. There will likely be tension between those who want to limit the uses of the federal funds and those who want most of the funds - totaling nearly $18 billion for public education - to flow directly to districts.

Efforts have been made this session to give a small, designated group of legislators responsibility over the funds, but a unanimously-adopted amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison would likely force a special session, as it would require legislative action on those decisions.

TCTA helped draft and promote a successful amendment that would ensure that the state could not use federal funds to supplant state funding, but that the dollars must supplement state education funds. The amendment, authored by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and supported by TCTA and other teacher groups, would ensure that federal funds from the COVID-19 relief acts would be distributed to districts in a timely manner.

An amendment by Rep. Justin Holland included a statement of intent that the commissioner can not condition the receipt of federal funds for public education on payment to any entity or purchase of any service by a school district.

An amendment by Rep. Donna Howard requires that the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee hold public hearings on the allocation of federal funds.

 

Other education amendments

  • An amendment by Rep. Abel Herrero would prohibit the use of state funds for any type of voucher plan.
  • An amendment by Rep. Yvonne Davis removed a provision that would have prohibited school districts and education service centers from hiring a lobbyist. The issue of “taxpayer funded lobbyists” has been contentious, but to date no bills prohibiting them have moved very far in the process.
  • An amendment by Davis would allow the TRS Board to approve a 13th check for retirees if affordable within the constraints on the pension fund.
  • An amendment by Rep. Bobby Guerra would require TEA to study the feasibility of implementing telehealth programs in public schools that do not have a nurse on site at each campus.