“There’s any easy way to get it done, and there’s a hard way. Either way, I’m in this to win this,” Gov. Greg Abbott declared, referring to passing school choice legislation in the upcoming special session in October. His declaration aligns with the findings of a report issued by the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment, which was established by House Speaker Dade Phelan. The report indicates that vouchers will remain a topic of discussion during the Legislature’s third special session. During the 88th Legislative regular session, Gov. Abbott prioritized vouchers but faced opposition from “The 24,” a coalition of Republican state representatives who derailed the legislation. “The 24” helped halt vouchers voting for the Herrero amendment to House Bill 1 – the state budget bill. The amendment prohibited state funding from going to private and religious schools – it passed 86-52, not a decisive victory for voucher opponents, but a victory all the less. The ultimate goal for those who opposed private school vouchers, was to hit at least 100 votes on the amendment, a measure that could have taken vouchers off the table in final budget negotiations. In the end, the voucher Titanic sank. But it was a bittersweet victory since public education funding also went down with the ship. However, there remains a glimmer of hope for public schools as Texas lawmakers have another opportunity in the third special session to fight for Texas teachers.
No Vouchers, No Funding
Despite having a historic budget surplus, the 88th regular session failed to improve public education funding, leaving local school districts in Texas grappling with financial challenges as a new school year unfolds. The Wise County Messenger said it best, for the past months, a common headline has been: [Insert school district name here] adopts a deficit budget. Here’s a glimpse into the struggles faced by some of these educational communities and the individuals who are working tirelessly to navigate these turbulent financial waters. Find your school district here:
- Coastal Bend ISD’s
- Magnolia ISD
- Wise & Denton County ISD’s
- Mansfield ISD
- Lewisville ISD
- Pearland ISD
Coastal Bend ISD’s
Karen Griffith, Corpus Christi ISD’s deputy superintendent of business and support services projected the district’s revenue to be less than their expenses. General fund revenue is projected to be about $306.7 million, while expenditures are estimated at $332.6 million. That means the budget has a deficit of almost $26 million. During a school board meeting in June, Griffith said that the district has about three years of operating life before it runs out of savings if the district continues to pass deficit budgets. “Like we did last year, we will look at what we can do to save money as we roll on through the year, and we’re hoping that we’re going to get some good news by the end of the legislative session that might help defray this also,” Griffith said back in June. According to the 2022-23 salary schedule, beginning teacher pay in the district was $47,271 last year. The National Education Association estimates that the national average teacher salary for the 2022-23 school year in the U.S. is $68,469. In neighboring districts Flour Bluff ISD, Aransas Pass ISD, and Rockport-Fulton ISD, starting teachers’ base pay was between about $46,000 and $50,100 last year. “We all know inflation has skyrocketed the last few years, but yet funding from the state has remained flat,” Port Aransas ISD’s Superintendent Sharon McKinney told Caller Times in August. “It’s been very difficult to try to meet all of our increased expenses, as well as an increased pay for our dedicated staff members.” Todd Hunter, a Republican representing District 32, which includes the Coastal Bend area, has consistently voiced his strong support for Texas public schools and their crucial role in preparing the youth for the challenges of tomorrow. “Texas will continue to thrive and grow if we emphasize public education spending that produces better students and attracts the best teachers,” Rep. Hunter states on his campaign website. However, during the regular legislative session, Rep. Hunter made the decision to vote against adopting the Herrero Amendment to House Bill 1. The Herrero Amendment prohibits state funding from going to private and religious schools – in the end, the Herrero Amendment passed 86-52.
Magnolia ISD’s Assistant Superintendent of Operations, Erich Morris, has recommended measures like freezing salaries and tapping into reserves to navigate these fiscal hurdles. Issues such as staff retention, funding shortages, security concerns, learning loss, and discipline problems further complicate matters. “I’m confident that we will be able to do something,” Morris said. “I just don’t know what that something looks like at this point.” Cecil Bell, a prominent Republican representing District Three and formerly the President of the Magnolia ISD School Board of Trustees, has secured notable endorsements during his campaign from figures like Kristi Baker, a former Trustee within Magnolia ISD. Rep. Bell, whose District includes Magnolia ISD, decided to vote against adopting the Herrero Amendment to House Bill 1. The Herrero Amendment prohibits state funding from going to private and religious schools – in the end, the Herrero Amendment passed 86-52.
Wise & Denton County ISD’s
Decatur ISD approved a general fund budget of $41,026,436 with projected revenue of $39,515,006, marking their third deficit budget in a row, and Northwest ISD revealed a projected shortfall of $2.9 million in revenue versus expenses. Meanwhile, Boyd ISD is estimating a total expenditure of $20 million, leaving the district facing a budget deficit of $674,530. And the trend continues. Decatur ISD Finance Director Cindy Watson told Wise County Messenger that all her peers in the school finance world are facing the same situation. “So far everyone I’ve spoken to is doing a deficit budget,” Watson said. Even fast-growing districts, like Denton ISD, which spans over 40 schools across 18 cities, are starting to see their growth hindered by insufficient funding and the impact of inflation, according to Denton ISD Superintendent Jamie Wilson. For Wilson when it comes to education Texas still has “a little ways to go in math.” Since 2019, the Texas Legislature hasn’t changed its per pupil spending. But everything else, “fuel, electricity, supplies, materials have gone up 18% or more in the last five years,” Wilson told WFAA. “In order to meet the inflationary needs, we need about $1,000 more per kid,” said Wilson. Dr. Lynn Stucky, a prominent Republican representing District 64, which includes Wise and Denton county, served for 15 years on the Sanger ISD Board of Trustees, including 4 years as president. His wife was also a former teacher and a coach in Denton ISD. As part of the Texas House Appropriations Committee, during the 2023 legislative session, Rep. Stucky helped fund initiatives for Texas public schools. While public education funding amounts to over $93.6 billion for the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years, Dr. Stucky highlights there is still $4 billion in new state General Revenue that will fund strategies decided by the Legislature in the upcoming special session. “This may include increased compensation for teachers, additional Teacher Incentive Allotment funding, raised Basic Allotment, augmented school safety funding, and enhanced Special Education funding,” Rep. Stucky wrote. All of these public education funding strategies failed to pass during the regular session thanks to a voucher amendment added to the House’s school finance bill (House Bill 100) – which was sponsored by Rep. Stucky. The Senate added to HB100 an education savings account/voucher program as a last-ditch effort to pass vouchers. The bill later died in the House, sinking the voucher Titanic, but taking public education funding down with the ship. Another crucial vote for voucher legislation was the Herrero Amendment vote, which prohibits state funds from going to private and charter schools. During the vote to adopt the amendment to the House budget bill (HB 1), Rep. Stucky chose to vote against it. In the end, the Herrero Amendment passed 86-52.
Dr. Kimberly Cantu, Superintendent of Mansfield ISD told RA News that if passed during a special session vouchers would severely damage public learning institutions by siphoning needed resources from them, pouring them into private schools. “At a time when public school funding still hangs in the balance, taking funding from public schools forces them to make significant cuts, impacting teaching and learning at a time when student needs are greater than ever,” Dr. Cantu said. Like many other districts, Mansfield ISD is embarking on a new school year facing significant challenges.
Lewisville ISD is examining a $578.89 million budget, reflecting a $15 million shortfall, while last year’s budget showed a more substantial deficit of $26.6 million, according to Chief Financial Officer Paige Meloni. This deficit threatens to affect student instruction and program offerings unless additional revenue sources are secured. Since the state didn’t provide the necessary funding during the regular legislative session, Lewsiville had to get creative in securing funds. LISD proactively implemented cost-saving measures while seeking voter support for additional funding via the Voter Approved Tax Rate Election (VATRE) initiative. Pending approval, this initiative is expected to yield approximately $37.5 million, crucial for ensuring competitive staff salaries and preserving extracurricular activities for students. These measures are deemed vital by the superintendent, given the absence of any per-student funding increases by the state legislature since 2019. “When it’s not increased, and we all see inflationary costs impacting our budgets—the school district’s no different,” Dr. Rapp told CBS News. “So bond projects and proposals allow the school district to have a source of revenue to meet facility and special project needs.” Kronda Thimesch, former five-year tenure Lewisville ISD board member and current Republican representative of District 65 is passionate about the value of a strong education. On her campaign website, she states that as a State Representative she “will work to ensure that education dollars serve our students and empower our teachers.” However, during the regular legislative session, Rep. Thimesch decided to vote Present Not Voting (PNV) on adopting the Herrero Amendment to House Bill 1. A crucial vote for voucher legislation since the Herrero Amendment vote prohibits state funds from going to private and charter schools. In the end, the Herrero Amendment passed 86-52.
Pearland ISD Superintendent Larry Berger said the district is in a difficult situation due to low state funding and teacher shortages — PISD faces a $15.1 million deficit going into the next school year. “We can’t make those cuts in the classroom,” Berger said. “It’s a difficult proposition.” In addition, Berger said he was disappointed that none of the multi-billions from the historic budget surplus was allotted to schools, especially since they are adding costs, but not adjusting for inflation. “We’re providing 100% of the education the state asks us to do, but they’re only giving us 50% of the funding,” Berger told Community Impact. Ed Thompson, former member of Pearland ISD board of trustees and current Republican representative of District 29, is passionate about the value of a strong education. According to his campaign website, Rep. Thompson helped increase public education funding by $5 billion and helped reduce recapture for school funding to keep more of Texans tax dollars in-district, ensuring “that our local schools remain strong and the future bright” “Texas made a promise to take care of our educators and students. Ed intends to keep that promise!” Rep. Thompson said. However, during the vote to adopt the Herrero Amendment, which prohibited the use of state funds for private schools, Rep. Thompson decided to vote Present Not Voting (PNV.) In the end, the Herrero Amendment passed 86-52.
The third special session is set to commence Oct 9. and will test Texas Legislators dedication to public schools and their staff. It remains to be seen if House Republicans will continue to band together to block vouchers and move towards funding public education.