by KIM HILSENBECK
Following a contentious legislative session in 2011, the Texas House and Senate introduced lean budgets this go ‘round. Back in January, the House proposed a $187.7 billion budget compared to $186.8 from the Senate. Both budgets, however, proposed about the same amount in general revenue spending – roughly $89 billion.
Though Democrats were quick to criticize, Republican lawmakers insisted the budgets were a jumping point for having the conversation about spending.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the state budget, House Bill 1.
Prior to giving it the green light, the committee voted to increase public education formula funding $1.7 billion. This closely matches the Senate version of the budget, SB 1, which would increase public education spending by $1.5 billion.
Part of that increase in SB 1 will go toward formula funding by increasing the basic allotment. The additional $125 million will be used to provide small increases to the Student Success Initiative, full-day kindergarten, as well as career and technical funding.
HB 1 includes an additional $200 million; about $50 million for programs such as Teach for America (TFA) and Communities in Schools (CIS).
TFA is a national teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach in under-resourced urban and rural public schools. CIS provides counseling services in schools to address the many needs to students that are not being met by school counselors, who are often tasked with standardized testing issues.
Another $140 million would be used to increase the state’s contribution to the Teacher Retirement System pension trust fund.
Meanwhile, the Texas Comptroller projected about $12 billion in the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund. Many Democrats would like to see the state tap into that reserve to restore public education funding to pre-2011 levels. But legislators are sizing up that kitty for water development and highway infrastructure projects.
SB 1 is expected to go to a vote in the full Senate this week.
Texas Legislature zeros out funding for standardized testing
In an increasingly bitter debate about standardized testing, educators, parents, the business community and lawmakers are in disagreement about the best course of action to take.
Many critics of standardized testing claim the expense and effort are not creating students who are more prepared to graduate. Opponents also say testing takes up too much instruction time during the school year.
Former Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott said the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.
But proponents say there must be a way to measure the effectiveness of student learning. Not to mention that federal law still requires standardized testing under No Child Left Behind.
In the Texas House draft budget, state representatives zeroed out all funding for statewide standardized testing. At the time, Speaker Joe Straus said, “The Texas House has heard you.”
However, the tactic may have been more ceremonial than concrete.
The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this spring that the Senate’s preliminary budget included about $94 million for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). So those two budgets would have to be reconciled.
Rep. Jason Isaac of House District 45 said the move was part of zero-based budgeting, where agencies such as the Texas Education Agency would have to explain the need for the funding to the legislature rather than automatically granting the same level of funding as the previous biennium.
Isaac recently filed legislation to allow school districts to create their own assessment plans to measure student success.