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Two minus five is still less than zero

It’s nice that Speaker Joe Straus wants to restore public education funding, but let’s be clear about what that means.

Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus said Friday he’s committed to pumping billions of dollars back into the state’s public schools, even though the Legislature approved historically deep cuts just last year.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the San Antonio Republican said “we will fund enrollment growth going forward,” which he estimated will be a $2 billion item when lawmakers head back to work Jan. 8.

“The good news is we’re dedicated to doing that, committed to doing that,” Straus said.

Texas’ booming population means its current 5 million-plus public school enrollment increases by as much as 80,000 every year. But the 2011 legislative session failed to provide enough new funding to keep up with enrollment, instead passing $5.4 billion in overall cuts to public education and classroom grant programs for things such as pre-kindergarten programs — sparking the state’s first decrease in per-student spending since World War II.

Straus wouldn’t say he will push to find the additional $5.4 billion necessary to roll back all of those funding cuts. He did say, though, that since Texas’ economy has weathered the recession and is strong again, lawmakers have more options.

Covering growth for this two year period and going forward is one thing – in fact, it’s what the Lege always used to do. Putting schools back where they would be if the $5.4 billion in cuts from the 2011 had never occurred is another, and it’s hard for me to see how adding in $2 billion will do that. The Lege changed the way the basic funding formula was calculated. Is Speaker Straus talking about reverting that back to how it was, or coming up with a better formula, perhaps in anticipation of the ruling in the school finance lawsuit, or is he talking about a one-time band-aid? What about the money that was cut from pre-K, is that in scope here or not? I’m just trying to understand whether this is a real attempt to undo something bad, or just a little sleight of hand to make it look like such an attempt. We can’t tell from this story. Perhaps Democrats can get some clarity on this as they discuss whom they might support for Speaker this session.

One more thing:

More than 600 school districts have sued the state for failing to meet Texas constitutional mandate to fund public schools. Most observers expect them to win, but it could be years before the case works its way through the appeals process.

Actually, as I understand it, there’s just one appeal, to the Supreme Court, and it is supposed to be expedited. The expectation is that the Supreme Court will make its ruling in 2014, in time for the 2015 legislative session.

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