AUSTIN (KXAN) — After emerging from a hard-fought and expensive election unscathed, Texas Republicans hold all of the cards and responsibility heading into what is sure to be the most turbulent budget process in decades.
Facing billions of dollars in lost revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Texas lawmakers have to find areas to cut, and Republicans will call the shots. Education advocates are watching closely to see whether a historic increase to public school funding will take a hit.
“Whatever happens will be because (Republicans) chose for that to be the case,” said Monty Exter, the senior lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators. “We’re definitely going to have a tight budget.”
In 2019, the Texas Legislature approved House Bill 3—a measure that increased public school funding by $2.7 billion for the next two years and provided pay raises for teachers across the state.
That funding has no permanent revenue stream and was instead tied to a budget surplus before the coronavirus pandemic upended the state economy.
Lawmakers will return to the Texas Capitol in January tasked with, among other things, finding a revenue sourced for House Bill 3.
State Rep. Gary VanDeaver, a North Texas Republican and former school administrator, said the legislature must “make good” on the promise made to teachers the last session, and that finding a permanent revenue source for HB3 needs to be a priority. VanDeaver said raises and incentives for teachers may need to be paused as the state recovers from the pandemic.
“Anyone that thinks that education is getting out of this (legislative) session totally unscathed, I think you’re dreaming,” said VanDeaver, who sits on committees that craft that state’s budget and funding for public schools.
School districts were given latitude to disperse raises for teachers. Austin and Round Rock ISDs both issued raises while other districts provided stipends, unsure where future funding would come from.
Jayne Serna has been in classrooms for 31 years and is familiar with the roller coaster of teacher salaries. She says uncertain teacher salaries impact mental health and the classroom.
“The financial stress is a real thing,” Serna said. “There’s a point at which it doesn’t make sense to keep teaching.”