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Top Morning Stories March 23, 2011

Photo illustration by: Todd Wiseman, courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

Should School Districts Use Their Rainy Day Funds?

Under pressure to tap into the state's Rainy Day Fund, Governor Rick Perry said Texas school districts should dip into their own reserve accounts first.  Gov. Perry said districts have about $12 billion in reserve accounts.  Ross Ramsey, of our political reporting partner The Texas Tribune, has a report this morning saying that suggestion is not so simple.  Here are a couple of reasons why:

First, they're required by the state to keep reserves to cover cash flow deficits and to be able to run for 60 days. Only $439.4 million of that total balance — less than 5 percent — exceeds the state standard. Second, the fact that one school district has a large reserve fund does nothing to help another district that has little or nothing in the bank. While 591 school districts have more money in reserve accounts than the state requires them to hold, 419 districts have less than they're supposed to have (20 were right on the mark as of the end of January). But that money can’t be shifted between districts.  

Texas House Committee Voted on Budget This Morning

The Associated Press is reporting the House Appropriations Committee has voted this morning on its version of the state's budget bill for the next two years. It includes big cuts to education and health services.  The state is trying to close a budget shortfall of more than $20 billion.

The Associated Press outlines the biggest cuts:

 The plan approved Wednesday would spend $77.6 billion in state money but underfund public schools by almost $8 billion and leave a $4 billion hole in the state health and human services budget.      That's after an agreement to use the state's Rainy Day fund that gave legislators an extra $4 billion to lessen cuts.

Gas Prices Straining Central Texas Charities

AAA Texasreports Austin gas prices are averaging $3.40 a gallon this morning.  The price at the pump is putting a strain on many Central Texans. KXAN TV reports rising gas and food prices are hurting local charities

Trucks at the Capital Area Food Bank travel three hundred thousand miles a year delivering food.  Higher gas prices will cost the agency about $50,000 more a year. That combined with higher food prices equals a double whammy for organizations that help people get the very basics.

Higher prices also have more people visiting food banks and asking charitable organizations for assistance.

Griner Leads Baylor to Sweet 16

The top-seeded Baylor Bears women’s basketball team is in the Sweet 16.  Brittney Griner scored a record 30 points in last night’s NCAA tournament game against West Virginia.  The Bears won 82-68.  They now play Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sunday in Dallas.