Schools across Texas are facing cuts of historic proportions, but some relief could be on the way—courtesy of long-awaited federal “Edujobs” money.
The recent budget agreement between congressional Democrats and Republicans to avoid a government shutdown reportedly includes a provision that would allow Texas to finallly secure $830 million through the Education Jobs Fund, money that had previously been blocked during a standoff between federal and state officials.
Congress approved the emergency jobs measure last year, providing $10 billion to prevent school districts around the country from having to make thousands of layoffs.
But when the legislation became law, it included a provision from Texas’ congressional delegation, led by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, meant to ensure that the money was used to supplement state spending on education—and not simply backfill amounts that the state had slashed from its budget earlier.
Doggett said he was motivated by earlier actions by Texas’ Republican Gov. Rick Perry and the GOP-controlled legislature, who in the congressman’s view had used $3.2 billion in federal stimulus funds to fill holes in the state’s budget. Doggett described those actions as “shenanigans,” which left the state’s schools “no better off than if we had done nothing.”
The congressman’s action, in turn, angered Republican state lawmakers, and Perry, who blasted the provision as “anti-Texas,” and said Texas’ constitution prevented him and legislators from making guarantees about future K-12 spending. Texas’ state attorney general later filed a legal action to try to secure the $830 million, a move backed by Perry.
But congressional budget agreement, which includes $38 billion in cuts and keeps the federal government funded through September, reportedly removes the strings that prevent Texas from securing the Edujobs funding, at a time when Lone Star schools are desperate for cash.
Under a budget proposal being considered in Texas’ state capitol, schools could see their budgets cut by at least $8 billion over the next two years, a reduction some observers say is unprecedented and could result in at least 65,000 lost jobs. The state faces a projected two-year budget shortfall of as much as $27 billion.
The state’s Republican lieutenant governor, David Dewhurst, said the congressional deal to give Texas access to the jobs funding was “a big win for Texas taxpayers, teachers and students.”
“Texans will also be pleased to know that our state will now be treated fairly,” Dewhurst said, “and these federal tax dollars we sent to Washington will be put to good use here.”
[UPDATE (April 14): The provision that would give Texas access to the money is accomplished through about two lines of language in a 400-something-page budget bill—page 344, lines 11-12.
In a statement, Doggett seemed skeptical that Texas state officials would use the money to benefit school districts.
The change “is one of many unwise concessions made to Republicans to avoid their threatened government shutdown,” Doggett said in a statement. “If this federal money is added to the funding for our schools contained in the [state budget proposals in Texas], our purpose can still be achieved. If it simply replaces proposed state funding, then the concern of state educators, who sought our amendment, will be justified.”]
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.