While the state faces an unexpected budget crisis thanks to COVID-19, that challenging outlook shouldn’t prevent us from preserving the long-term commitments made to public education during the last legislative session.
By Bob Popinski
Director of Policy
Raise Your Hand Texas
“We cannot allow a public health crisis to become a generational education crisis.”
That was the resounding message sent by the Texas Education Agency in a two-year budget request to the state legislature that both recognized the challenges our schools face due to COVID-19 and the importance of maintaining education funding at this time.
Students could lose anywhere from seven months to more than a year’s worth of learning due to the pandemic, the agency warned.
We are at a crossroads, and the choice couldn’t be more consequential: fulfill our commitment to public education or make cuts that will further hurt students and teachers who are already struggling.
Now is the time for all of us — students, educators, and state leaders — to get creative. Budget-writing will be more difficult because of the weakened economy. However, we do not have to undo the progress made for the nearly 5.4 million public school students in Texas.
Use the Economic Stabilization Fund
For over seven months, COVID-19 dealt a tremendous blow to many contributors to our state’s economy, and state revenue has taken a hit. Sales tax, which makes up about 60 percent of our state revenue is well below the prior year.
The state already anticipates a $4.6 billion shortfall for the 2020-21 budget and faces a larger budget hole in the 2022-23 state budget. That said, this is not the time to panic. Texans have overcome obstacles like this in the past, and we will again. The state has $8.8 billion in reserves for times like this, and lawmakers need to use this option before considering any cuts to our public schools.
Delay the Foundation School Program Payment
Payment delays can be a handy way of coping with the large, unexpected, and hopefully short-term budget pressures caused by COVID-19. Delaying the Foundation School Program payment by one month could save the state billions in the next state budget.
Seek Additional Federal Stimulus Dollars and Flow Them Directly to Schools
Texas’ current $4.6 billion revenue shortfall would be substantially higher had $1.2 billion in CARES Act funding not been used to help offset it. Pursuits of additional federal stimulus funding must continue, and should stipulate that the state spend any future funds directly on public education.
In addition to asking that the state’s commitments to public education continue, the TEA’s budget request also asked lawmakers to increase its investment in teacher recruitment and training programs.
Raise Your Hand applauds this recommendation, as high-quality recruitment and residency programs are proven to positively impact teacher retention and turnover rates. Also critically important is ensuring equitable access to effective instructional programs that personalize learning and serve a child’s academic, social, and emotional needs. We must make sure our students are caught up and that disadvantaged students don’t fall further behind. This commitment will take more resources, not less.
Let’s stop the tired conversations about program cuts and across-the-board reductions before they even begin. We can do better for our students — we must. Whatever it takes, we must fight to keep our students from falling behind and ensure the promises and progress made are not undone. We must prioritize the needs of all Texas students, our future workforce, as well as our teachers, schools, and communities. Our future depends on it.
The future of Texas — our communities, our economy, our citizenry — depends on how well we prepare all students today. Supporting and strengthening our schools takes all of us. Get involved to stay informed on important education issues and join thousands of Texans in standing with our public schools.