Texas House OKs slashing $4 billion from public schools in finance bill

Friday, June 10, 2011 - 10:15am

AUSTIN (AP) - The Texas House approved slashing $4 billion from the state's public schools early Friday and establishing a new finance formula that will change how school funds are distributed.

Because more than 80 percent of education costs are personnel-related, districts across the state have already started laying off thousands of teachers, which will result in larger class sizes. Many special programs will not be funded, and pre-kindergarten would be cut from funding for full-day classes to only half-day.

The bill passed 81-62, along party lines after 16 hours of debate. The bill will go to a conference committee where senators and representatives will negotiate a final version of the bill. They are likely to strip out several purely symbolic amendments added Thursday night, such as one doing away with assessment testing.

Under the current law, the state is required to pay schools more than what Republicans want to spend. The proposed change to the law spreads the $4 billion in cuts over two years, with a 6 percent, across-the-board cut in 2012 and a $2 billion reduction in 2013 that would reduce funding for some schools more than others based on a complicated formula.

"Living within our means is what allows Texas to create more jobs than all the other states in the nation combined," Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, said in defending the cuts. "It's not how much you spend, it's how you spend it."

As a portion of the state budget, public education spending rises from 57 percent of general revenue in the last two-year budget to 60 percent, Eissler said. But he acknowledged that is part of much lower state spending.

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