Senate Barely Budges on School Finance, Creating Showdown With House

AUSTIN -- The Senate's chief education policy writer on Friday offered a school finance proposal that hardly budged from his chamber's earlier version.Friendswood GOP Sen. Larry Taylor said his move would set up hasty negotiations with the House as the special session nears an end.But the gap is huge.While the House wants to give schools $1.8 billion more over the next two years, Taylor called that "unrealistic" because the state's economy is fragile and its budget tight.Instead, he offered $311 million of tweaks."We're trying to do things that we can, that are within our means," explained Taylor, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.His package included $60 million of facilities funding for charter schools. While charters say they need it, public school advocates insist charters in most cases already receive more state aid than traditional campuses do.Also, the two chambers continue to disagree over how to pay for any changes to school funding. The Senate wants to delay up to $780 million in payments to Medicaid insurers, while the House prefers postponing a $1.93 billion schools payment.Either move reflects how hard up state budget writers are. For years, they've been shifting general-purpose revenue to roads, cutting taxes and mostly hoarding rainy-day dollars. Depressed world oil prices also have cooled the Texas economy.Fiscal cautionTaylor said the House's approach would re-set base spending on schools to a level $1.8 billion higher than lawmakers approved in the two-year budget they passed in May. If they want to "true up" the accounting maneuver next session, they'd have to add another $1.8 billion, he said."It's unfortunate that it was put out there, the $1.8 billion, because that was never really money that we had available. It set this false expectation," he said.  Continue reading...

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