Texas lawmakers put a little more than $2 billion toward public education this session to account for increased student enrollment. They also approved about $1.5 billion to adjust some parts of the education funding formula.
“It wasn’t a great thing in most people’s opinion, but it was better than where we were,” says Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), chair of the House Public Education Committee.
Aycock says the funding doesn’t fill the $5.4 billion hole created in 2011, back when state lawmakers cut the public education budget.
This session, Aycock tried to address the funding issue. He filed a bill that would’ve added $800 million more to public education than what was approved. He also wanted to fix the funding formulas, which Aycock thinks are flawed.
“There will have to be some further discussion about how we distribute the money, not just the amount of money,” he says.
Ultimately, Aycock says different school districts have different interests—which made it harder to pass a bill that had broad support.
Josh Sanderson, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators says the Senate also posed a problem. “The legislature showed the political will for large-scale changes just simply doesn’t exist right now.”
But will it ever? Sanderson’s not holding his breath. “Certainly if history is a lesson, it’s going to take the Supreme Court to force the legislature’s hand and tell them they have to take action,” he says.
More than two-thirds of public school districts in Texas are involved in a lawsuit against the state. That happened after those multi-billion dollar cuts in 2011.
In 2013, a district judge ruled in favor of the school districts—declaring that Texas was not adequately funding public education. The state has filed an appeal. A ruling isn’t expected next year.
So where does all this leave Texas students? Based on numbers from the 2014 school year, the most recent data available, Aycock says the state was “about 40th in per-student funding and $2,400 below national average. And this budget will not do much to improve that if at all.”
Rep. Aycock—and those who follow education policy—are looking to the courts to see what’s next. Aycock says he thinks eventually, there’ll be even more testimony to see what the state has done with public education funding since the lawsuit was filed. And that could take years.
But for Aycock, public education funding is now someone else’s fight. He’s announced he won’t be coming back next session: “It’s just so complicated and intertwined and there’s so many different views on it that it’s going to be a difficult thing to address when it gets addressed and I’m anxious for someone else to try it besides me, to tell you the truth.”
In the meantime, the additional money approved for education this year may provide some relief for Texas’ ever-expanding schools, but teachers and students will still have to make do with less money than they had five years ago.