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House Appropriations releases its budget outline

Better news for schools in this version.

The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Thursday to boost funding for public schools by $2.5 billion in the next two-year budget period.

Schools would get an additional $500 million in the current fiscal year, which ends Aug. 31, under a second proposal by Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts that is likely to be approved by the committee as part of a separate spending bill.

That $3 billion total is twice the increase approved so far by senators. But Senate leaders have said they want to give schools a bigger increase than the $1.5 billion in their two-year budget proposal.

House lawmakers are eager to put a dent in the $5.4 billion cut from public education two years ago, Pitts said. Budget cuts were made in 2011 because Comptroller Susan Combs projected a severe revenue shortfall. A rebounding economy instead has given the Legislature billions more to spend than expected.

“It is a priority of the Texas House – Republicans and Democrats – to fund public education. We challenge the Senate to have that same priority,” said Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

[…]

Houston ISD’s Jason Spencer said the district didn’t yet know what the House committee proposal would mean for its funding, but that Thursday’s move was a positive step.

“We’re encouraged to see that state lawmakers seem to be moving toward restoring the cuts that were made two years ago,” Spencer said. “We’d like to see the cuts fully restored, and we expect that is what is going to happen as a result of school finance litigation. Nonetheless, we are encouraged by this. We need to see how the numbers shake out.”

Given that HISD has talked about raising the tax rate to make up for a $50 million shortfall in the next fiscal year, this is good news. Still not a full restoration of funds, but getting closer, and this might help nudge the Senate a little farther. On the downside, the total amount of spending in the House budget is less than that of the Senate budget, so where they’re giving here they’re taking away there. They have only released a framework, not a complete document, so we don’t know the details just yet. The bill will come to the full House for a vote on April 4. Stace has more.

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