More Money for Texas Public Schools Dies, a Casualty of Lawmakers' Vouchers Fight

This is a developing story.AUSTIN -- The two-year state budget nearing passage contains no new money for public schools, a victim of infighting over school vouchers.While $530 million of new school money was announced on House and Senate negotiators' decision documents late Saturday, that was inaccurate, chief House budget writer John Zerwas said on Wednesday."There is no money in the bill" for slightly enhanced school funding, said Zerwas, a Richmond Republican.In continued haggling between the two chambers on Tuesday, though, anti-abortion forces did win potentially up to $20 million more of state funds for "pregnancy crisis centers," which advise against abortion, he confirmed.On Wednesday, House members reaffirmed their opposition to use of state funds for voucher or "school choice" programs such as savings accounts and tax-credit scholarships.After rejecting Senate changes to a House-passed school finance bill, House members voted 101-45 to instruct their negotiators to honor the spirit of the chamber's April budget vote against vouchers. That included education savings accounts for disabled students, which was one of the changes the Senate made.Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said lawmakers must pass at least the private-school vouchers for disabled students or there will be a special session. The session ends Monday.According to Zerwas, the upshot is that, as of now, the budget contains no new money for public schools, except dollars to cover enrollment growth. Since January, that money has been in both chambers' budgets.House allies of Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, portrayed the Senate's changes as short-sighted and threatening to many school districts' financial health.Districts such as Frisco are hard-pressed, and some may close campuses because they're losing "hold harmless" money this September, said chief House school policy writer Dan Huberty, a Houston Republican, and Ken King, a GOP member from Canadian in the Panhandle.Hundreds of other districts are taxing property at near the maximum for maintenance and operations, Huberty said.The House had $1.9 billion in new money for schools in its budget. It was linked to passage of Huberty's school finance bill and deployment of a time-honored accounting trick - a one-month delay of a state payment of basic school aid to districts.The Senate, though, cut that to $530 million in rewriting Huberty's bill. Senators provided no way to pay for even that smallish amount of relief, either in the budget or the Senate's rewrite of Huberty's bill, Zerwas said.  Continue reading...

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