Biden promises education reform, but Texas lawmakers face uphill battle due to projected budget shortfall

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — President-elect Joe Biden has promised sweeping measures to help reform kindergarten through 12th grade education in America.

Some question whether those changes will reach Texas public schools, especially at a time when state lawmakers face funding challenges.

“I’m a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president,” Biden said during his victory speech Saturday night.

He and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who has been in education for 30 years, promised to make lasting improvements to public education, including giving teachers raises, diversifying student populations and closing funding gaps for low-income schools.

But for Texas schools, state lawmakers say federal promises can only go so far.

“If you are concerned about the state of our schools, if you want to see greater funding, improvement in our classrooms—you need to focus your energy on your state lawmakers—from your local state rep, to your state senator, all the way up to the governor’s mansion,” said Rep. James Talarico for U.S. House District 52.

Talarico is a former middle school teacher. He says legislative change is most successful when federal and state lawmaker goals are in alignment.

He’s already pre-filed 11 bills for the upcoming 2021 legislative session, including six bills directly related to education. But he says lawmakers are facing a major budget shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This could be problematic for any lofty goals directly related to education, including House Bill 3, the historic school finance overhaul state legislators enacted in 2019.

He says HB3 is in jeopardy, and if state lawmakers can’t balance the budget, education reform could be first on the chopping block.

“It’s going to be up to lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to stand up for HB3 and to keep the promise that we made to students, teachers and parents,” Talarico said.

He says a financial injection into the Texas budget, much like the one the state got during the last recession, will help reduce cuts and allow the Texas Legislature to continue prioritizing public education.

Other Biden promises for high school and college students includes investments in vocational training at high schools. The goal is to create partnerships between high schools, community colleges and employers.

Biden says he also wants to offer two years of community college or a trade program at no cost. The same holds true at four-year universities for students whose families bring in less than $125,000 per year.

Biden plans to cut payments on federal student loans by more than half, with graduates expected to pay off more than $25,000. After 20 years, the remainder is forgiven if borrowers have been making payments. If you earn $25,000 a year or less, you won’t owe any student loan payments and you won’t accrue interest.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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