It is still early, but if pre-session budget-strutting by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is any indication, public schools will be in for another rough ride during the upcoming legislative session, at least in the Senate.
The Legislative Budget Board voted yesterday to cap the spending growth rate for the new state budget, which will be written after legislators convene on Jan. 8, at 10.71 percent. This limit is determined by the estimated growth in Texans’ personal income, and it helps determine how much the Legislature spends on public education and other programs.
Considering all the budget-slashing that went on during the 2011 session, that cap is tight enough. But Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, pledged to tighten the limit even more – to less than 10 percent, a level based on inflation plus population growth. Gov. Rick Perry favors a similar, tighter standard, which also is favored by his and Dewhurst’s favorite audience — the tea party-types who would shrink state government, even at the cost of more damage to public schools and other basic services.
Comptroller Susan Combs hasn’t updated her revenue estimate for the Legislature yet, and, so far, House Speaker Joe Straus is declining to engage in any budgetary posturing. But Dewhurst and Perry apparently will continue to preach belt-tightening to the point of suffocation, even though the state economy and tax collections are markedly improving. The Rainy Day Fund has swelled to at least $8.1 billion and, according to the most recent report from the comptroller, state tax collections are running $5 billion ahead of earlier projections.
Moreover, the Legislature has a lot of ground to make up, including $5.4 billion – more than $500 per student — cut from public education last session, even as enrollment in public schools continues to increase by about 80,000 children a year.
Even with the tighter cap, Dewhurst, according to the San Antonio Express-News, contends the Legislature can still “fund our priorities.”
But Dewhurst apparently finds political pontificating easier than simple math. And, his priorities obviously aren’t the same as millions of Texas parents and educators who really hope the Legislature will stop trying to squeeze the life out of public schools.