School Funding Bill 'Could Have Been Worse'
Senate Bill 1 on deck for House debate
There is bad news, good news, and worse news for the Austin Independent School District in the Legislature.
First, the bad news: If the current school funding proposals pass, the district will face a cut in state funding over the next biennium. The good news: The cuts are not as bad as initially feared. Under the provisions of Senate Bill 1 – scheduled for House debate today, June 9 – AISD would lose $37 million for the upcoming school year and $58 million for 2012-13. That's dramatically less than the $94 million prediction the administration had been working toward, and the 2011-12 cut will be further offset by the district's $14 million slice of the state's federal EduJobs allotment. AISD board of trustees President Mark Williams said, "It sure could have been worse." With savings already made from cutting staff and operational efficiencies, he added, "That takes the budget deficit roughly to break-even" for 2011-12.
SB 1 is not the only education bill scheduled for Thursday's debate. SB 2 must also pass to release the state's $37 billion general revenue appropriation for public schools for the next biennium. Schools also need House Bill 6 to pass, creating the new instructional materials allotment and releasing just under a billion dollars a year for textbooks and equipment. While both administrators and teachers are eager to see that money released, they're divided over a series of bills that would give administrators more powers to fire staff, furlough them, or cut their pay. Originally filed in the regular session as HB 400, those "mandate relief" measures have been split up across several smaller bills for the special session. Education Austin co-President Rae Nwosu said she was concerned that the district is still pushing for those bills "so they can reduce pay." The district is still under a declaration of financial exigency and could cut pay and conditions easily. However, rather than do more damage to classrooms and employee relations, Nwosu said, "We want to see them put people back to work."
So what about that worse news? Under SB 1, the state would ditch the target revenue system by 2018, terminating its current obligations to fund school districts at the bare minimum of 2006 levels. Even though enrollment is predicted to go up, Williams said, "We're going to continue to deal with declining revenue per student."