Budget deal would free up Texas education money

AP News
Posted: Apr 12, 2011 6:58 PM
Budget deal would free up Texas education money

The federal budget deal negotiated to avoid a government shutdown would remove the strings a Democratic congressman had attached to $830 million in funds for public education in Texas.

If passed into law as expected later this week, the bill would remove a requirement that Republican Gov. Rick Perry use the funds to supplement existing school spending rather than just replace state funds in order to balance the budget. Perry praised the agreement to do away with the requirement, which he called a "political stunt."

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said in a statement released Tuesday that he hoped Texas lawmakers would use the money to fill an $8 billion gap in schools funding over the next two years. Overall, Texas faces a $27 billion budget shortfall in order to maintain the current level of services.

"Removing all accountability on Governor Perry's use of $830 million of federal aid to education by repealing the 'Save Our Schools' Amendment is one of many unwise concessions made to Republicans to avoid their threatened government shutdown," Doggett said. "If this federal money is added to the funding for our schools contained in the state Senate finance bill, our purpose can still be achieved."

Perry has blasted Doggett for attaching strings to the federal money intended to protect 300,000 teachers and other nonfederal government workers from layoffs. Texas Republicans made repealing the amendment a priority.

"The people of the state of Texas will be better served with those dollars flowing to where they should be (going)," Perry said following a speech in Dallas. "Our delegation and leadership in Washington D.C. obviously saw through it as just a cheap political stunt."

The Texas-specific provision required that Perry promise the state will maintain certain education spending levels through 2013 in order to get the funds. Perry complained the Texas Constitution prohibited him from committing to future state spending. Texas applied for the money anyway, but was rejected and later filed suit against the Department of Education.

Democrats in Congress said they put forth the provision, which also bypassed state lawmakers and sent the federal aid directly to school districts, because of the way Texas handled federal stimulus dollars in 2009. Texas lawmakers used $3.2 billion in federal stimulus money to replace state money and ended the legislative session with billions in the state's reserve Rainy Day Fund.

That led to an even bigger budget shortfall this year. Texas lawmakers have proposed tapping $3.2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, but still are billions short in funding public education.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Tuesday that the state's budget writers have had a hard time coming up with the minimum amount of money required by state law for public schools, suggesting the $830 million would indeed be used to supplement existing state funds.

"In today's budget world, almost a billion dollars is a big help," said Dewhurst, who presides over the state Senate. "We're going to put it into public education. That money was needed in 2009 and it's needed today."