2011 TASA Legislative Conference Report

March 31, 2011

Report from Austin Legislative Conference

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 was a busy day at the State Capital. The day began with a conference attended by 1000 School Superintendents and School Board Members from across the state. We heard from Senator Shapiro and Representative Eissler on the progress from their prospective Education Committees. The message was very different and indicated that there is a deep chasm between the thinking of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Let’s start with the good news first. On the Senate side of the Capital, SB 6 has narrowed the funding gap to 4 Billion dollars over the next two years. You will remember we started the session at a 10 Billion dollar gap. Members of the Senate Education Committee have been willing to look at a wide range of options to bring funds back into the picture of the education of our students. There is even talk of a new funding system being developed that will eliminate the inequity of the Target Revenue System of funding by the year 2014! The news gets even better if you consider that there is no Economic Stabilization Funds (Rainy Day) included in this bill as written. Many of the Senators have already expressed their support for the use of this fund and that would narrow the gap even further bringing the state very close to matching current funding levels.

The picture in the House of Representatives is not as promising. HB 1 was voted out of committee onto the floor at 7.9 Billion dollars short of current law requirements. The members of the committee are not willing to use the “Rainy Day Fund” to close the gap and did not support the strategies being employed by the Senate to create SB 6. Despite a great deal of evidence that this gap can not be closed with cuts alone, the House is moving forward with the plan to create a Revenue Neutral “Balanced” Budget on the backs of the public school children of Texas. The cuts in education and many other service industries in the state will not benefit the economy. Using this level of cuts to balance the budget will cost tens of thousands of Texans their jobs and put an unmanageable strain on the state’s social services. Members of the House will tell you that this is the mandate that they were sent to Austin to accomplish and that the majority of the voters approve of their actions and intentions. I find it very difficult to believe that any group would intentionally promote the destruction of the Public School Education System and the State’s economy just to put a few dollars (very few) in their bank account.

What to do?
• Continue to write, email and call your Legislators and let them know you are still monitoring this issue. Include all the members that were included on the list provided earlier this spring.
• Express your appreciation to the Senators that have exhibited the courage to lead by example during this difficult planning process and encourage them to continue.
• Encourage the members of the House of Representatives to review the Senate plan and move forward to create a budget that does not severely damage the Local School District’s ability to provide services to their students.
• Continue to support the use of the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF) to close the gap in the funding for Public School Education. The price of a barrel of oil remains well over the $70 per barrel threshold that puts money into the ESF. There is a legal cap on the total amount of money that can be held in the ESF. The money is needed. The fund was created specifically for this purpose and due to the price of oil, the fund will replenish itself. The local school district’s fund balance will not replenish itself if depleted.
• Finally, be vocal in your local community about the positive things that are happening at your school. Many of the people that favor cuts over revenue think that our public schools are a failure. They see money spent on Public Education as money thrown away with no benefits in return. It is our obligation to be ambassadors for the schools that we love.

The news is better but the process is far from over. Thank you for your involvement and your continued contribution to the commitment we all share in providing a quality education for our children. I firmly believe that the destruction of our Public School System will bring about the destruction of our State. Do not allow that to take place.