Days before Texas budget debate, educators call for increase in public schools funding
As the Texas House prepares to debate the state budget later this week, educators from across the state have one message for lawmakers: increase the funding for public education.
On Tuesday, over a dozen educators and public-school advocates called on House members to specifically bump the money directed toward the basic allotment, or the per pupil funding, by $1,000 per student. That would cost the state about $14 billion annually.
Tobi Jackson, the president of the Fort Worth ISD Board of Education, told reporters the lack of funding for public education makes it hard for school districts to be competitive in terms of education.
“Let’s agree to fund our students like the future of Texas depends on it because indeed it does,” Jackson said.
Texas has a surplus of about $32 billion.
Currently under House Bill 1, the chamber’s spending plan, $5 billion would be allocated to increase funding for public and charter schools. That would raise the basic allotment by $50, to $6,210 per student.
State law allows for automatic pay increases for teachers once the basic allotment is bumped. But the Texas American Federation of Teachers says $50 per student would only result in a $455 salary raise per educator. According to the organization, that’s “less than most spend out of their own pocket for classroom supplies each year.”
Mindy Curran is the assistant superintendent of Ingram Independent School District, a district of about 1,200 students about 92 miles northwest of San Antonio.
She said that since the last increase to the basic allotment, in 2019, Ingram ISD’s transportation costs have increased $60,000 in the last two years, as well as food service costs.
“We know how to stretch a dollar and we have stretched it as absolutely far as we possibly can,” Curran said. “If you can imagine that rubber band, when it’s stretched in the middle [and] it’s just about to snap, that’s kind of where our dollars are at right now.”
Curran said a $50 increase in per pupil funding per student would amount to $57,000 — about 88% of the salary of one teacher.
When asked how her school would benefit with a $1,000 per-student increase, she said a high number of the students in her district are in low-income households. More money would mean more resources to help “break them out of generational poverty.”
“But we have to make choices on how we spend our dollars right now,” Curran said.
The House is expected to debate the budget bill on Thursday. Over 300 amendments have been filed.
One of the amendments would prohibit state funding to be used for voucher-like programs like school vouchers or education savings accounts.
A measure that would create a voucher-like program in the state is making its way through the Texas Legislature. It has the blessing of top Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
But not all Republican lawmakers support it.
Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, has said it would negatively impact rural schools.
The proposed amendment against school vouchers was filed by Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, and has the endorsement of Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.
Laura Subrin Yeager, the founder of the public school funding advocacy group Just Fund It TX, said she supports the amendment.
She said school vouchers would take away much needed money for public schools.
“We are begging for any morsel of additional funding for public schools,” Yeager said. “And when vouchers come in they do the opposite.”