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Texas Lawmakers Have About $6 Billion Available for Schools, Border Security, Covid-19

The Legislature has about $6 billion available to spend during its third special session, which the governor called to advance school choice, strengthen border security and restrict COVID-19 mandates.

How much of that money lawmakers will approve for increases in public education spending, as many teachers and superintendents have called for, remains uncertain, though the Senate Education Committee has advanced two proposals.

Senators could vote as early as Thursday on a $5.2 billion package — Senate Bill 2 — to increase teacher pay, raise per-student funding and allocate more school safety money. Officials could also vote Thursday on a $500 million school choice bill that would provide $8,000 to students for private school and other education costs, prioritizing low-income and special education students. Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, authored both bills.

School choice is a voucher-like program that uses public money to help pay for students’ K-12 private school costs.

SB 2 — the finance bill — proposes to use almost $4 billion that lawmakers appropriated during the regular session in spring for public education.

Lawmakers did not agree on a school finance bill during the regular session, which ended May 29, so the $4 billion is essentially sitting in the state’s budget without any direction. Lawmakers would have to pass legislation to allocate the money to a certain purpose, such as for public school funding.

Creighton’s finance bill would also pull about $1.2 billion from predicted state revenue over the next two years to invest in education.

The $500 million Creighton proposed in SB 1 — his school choice bill — was also set aside during the regular session. The money is sitting in the state’s budget, earmarked for school choice programs.

The regular session ended in squabbles between the House and Senate over school choice. Creighton’s school choice bill in the regular session sailed in the Senate, but it died in the House after members had committed against spending public money on private school costs.

How much money is available?

The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts released updated calculations last week that predict an $18.3 billion budget surplus at the end of the 2024-25 biennium, the two-year period over which the Legislature is allocating funding.

That’s $4 billion more than the $14.1 billion the comptroller initially predicted over the summer would be available, according to the comptroller’s office. The comptroller released that initial estimate before the second special session in July.

However, because of constitutional spending limits, lawmakers are really working with about $6 billion to fund school initiatives, border issues and any bills restricting COVID-19 vaccine mandates for this biennium.

Lawmakers could vote to spend more than the constitutional limit, but doing so is rare and can be considered politically risky.

Even if lawmakers pass a school funding bill, Gov. Greg Abbott hasn’t signaled whether he’s on board. In his call for this third special session, Abbott didn’t list school finance as one of the approved topics. Instead, he called for education savings accounts, a type of school choice proposal, for all Texas students.

Source : Austin American Statesment