/getmedia/90ae4514-7035-4107-9e8f-04c2c7981c99/240412_TX-Capitol-at-Night.jpg?width=1200&height=482&ext=.jpg /getmedia/90ae4514-7035-4107-9e8f-04c2c7981c99/240412_TX-Capitol-at-Night.jpg?width=1200&height=482&ext=.jpg

Abbott denies responsibility for public school budget crisis

Teach the Vote
Teach the Vote

Date Posted: 5/15/2024 | Author: Tricia Cave

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appears to be doing some damage control this week, following growing calls from legislators for a special session to address school funding.  

Late last week, a group of bipartisan legislators led by Rep. Tom Oliverson (R–Houston) sent a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, asking him to utilize surplus funds available to TEA to help struggling school districts with budgetary shortfalls. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD recently announced a budget shortfall of $138 million for the 2024-25 school year and has cut many librarian positions as well as hundreds of teaching positions in an attempt to close the budget gap. Then on Monday, Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D–Houston), along with 40 of his Democratic colleagues, called on Abbott to convene an immediate special session to increase the basic allotment and the school safety allotment.  

This is all happening while the state has an estimated $32 billion budget surplus and $4 billion earmarked for public education in the current state budget. Those funds were tied to a voucher under House Bill (HB) 1 in the third and fourth special sessions and weren’t released to schools following the failure of a voucher to pass.  

Thursday, while a guest on the Chad Hasty radio show, Abbott denied responsibility for the public education budget crisis. “You’ll be shocked to hear this, but it’s not me that’s responsible for this,” Abbott said. “Almost every school district in the state of Texas, as well as across the United States, is facing that very same problem for reasons completely unrelated to the state of Texas. The reason why they have a budget shortfall is because, the last couple of budgets they had, they had an incredible amount of money given to them by the federal government in the post-COVID years. The federal government just sent a boatload of money to our schools, and that increased their budgets dramatically. Some schools were responsible in their budgeting to make sure that would not happen; others not so much. Some school districts, for example, took that money and hired additional people, and now they do not have that money coming into them from the federal government, and as a result, they have to lay off those people, and that’s a consequence of spending the money that way.” 

Abbott also issued a swift response to Rosenthal’s letter, responding with a letter of his own stating that the Democrats who signed on to the letter were responsible for the lack of funding because they voted against House Bill (HB 1) in November 2023. That bill, Abbott said, would have provided $6 billion in funding to public schools, an increase in the school safety allotment, and teacher pay raises.  

So are Abbott’s claims correct? Let’s take a closer look. 

Assertion 1: The end of COVID ESSER funds is the reason for the current school budgetary crisis. 

While it is true that COVID ESSER funding will come to an end in September, this is not the reason for district budget shortfalls. Districts have known from the beginning that ESSER funding was temporary. While it is also true that many districts hired extra staff members with ESSER funds, many of those positions were temporary and meant to last only as long as the funds did.  

Additionally, the first couple of waves of ESSER funding were actually used to supplant state funding for hold harmless provisions extended to districts in the wake of COVID enrollment declines. Only the ESSER III funds, provided as a result of the American Rescue Plan in 2021, were fully provided to districts.  

Assertion 2: HB 1 would have provided $6 billion in funding to school districts, and Democrats and pro-public education Republicans voted against it. 

This is patently false. First, the only vote taken on HB 1 was a vote on the Raney amendment, which removed the voucher from the broader bill. Following that vote, there was also a vote against reconsidering the voucher vote. Once those two votes were taken, the author of the bill, Public Education Chairman Brad Buckley (R–Salado), recommitted the bill to committee, effectively killing it. Funding was never voted on. The House, in fact, could have voted on HB 1 without the voucher, but Buckley, not the supporters of the Raney amendment, made the choice not to move forward with the remaining bill once the voucher was removed. Buckley’s action to kill his own bill was undoubtedly in deference to Abbott, with whom he had been working on the voucher language, and likely occurred in direct consultation with the governor’s office.  

Assertion 3: “To achieve our shared goal, the House must pass it (HB 1) next regular session.” 

This proves Abbott’s culpability in the funding crisis because he states here that if districts want more funding, the voucher bill must be passed. This is only true if the governor chooses to hold public school funding hostage, as he did last session. The two issues do not have to be tied together. The Senate, in fact, took a different approach, separating the voucher and funding in SB 1 and SB 2, respectively, in the fourth special session.  

In fact, now-defeated Rep. Steve Allison (R–San Antonio) attempted on the last day of the session to bring SB 2, the Senate’s funding bill, to the floor, bypassing committee. He was immediately shot down by Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont), who would not recognize Allison to make the necessary motion.  

Abbott made it clear multiple times during the special session that he would not sign a funding bill unless it was attached to a voucher. He signaled from the beginning of the session he would play hardball on the issue and showed little to no willingness to compromise.  He vetoed the bills of anti-voucher members, claiming he would reconsider them “once education freedom is passed.” He encouraged faith leaders to pressure House members and their own congregations from the pulpit on the issue. He also made it clear that he would target anti-voucher Republicans in the primaries, an effort that had mixed results but did end in the defeat of six pro-public education Republicans.  

Simply put, Abbott tied funding to the voucher, refused to compromise, and lost, leaving millions of Texas students and teachers to feel the effects of his gamble. This is absolutely on Abbott, and he should take responsibility as the leader of this state for his unwillingness to provide for our public schools. 


CONVERSATION

1 Comments

Gloria Letang
05/16/2024

Top down authority and leadership is something you cannot pick and choose when it applies to you and you get it wrong.


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