State lawmakers must prioritize funding for education

In 2019, the Texas Legislature made a $6.5 billion investment in public education through House Bill 3 (HB 3) to prioritize student need and fund important reforms including teacher pay raises and full-day pre-K. However, reductions in state revenues have Texans worried the reforms and funding gains made in the 86th Legislative Session will be short-lived. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Raise Your Hand Texas found 84% of Texans are concerned about the impact of potential funding cuts on public education. That number jumps to 88% when surveying Texas public school parents.

While Texas Comptroller Glenn Hager provided positive news in the biennial revenue estimate released last week, the state is still facing a $1 billion deficit which will make for a difficult budget-writing session. The introduced versions of both the House and Senate budgets maintain the increases in education funding made last session and provide $3.1 billion to fund expected enrollment growth.

In the opening week of the 87th Legislature, state leaders showed that education funding was on their minds:

“We are going to continue to maintain what we did for education last session, we are going to continue to build our roads, we are going to continue to take care of our health care needs.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

 

“Last session was a tremendous success. Among other things, we passed sweeping reforms to our school finance system, and made major investments in our students and in our teachers.”
Gov. Greg Abbott*

 

“Texas children and educators must continue to be at the forefront of our legislative agenda this session.”
House Speaker Dade Phelan

 

“Our task is clear — keep our commitment to education, defeat the coronavirus and make the investments necessary to speed up our economic recovery.”
Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson

 

“We will deal with issues concerning education. We have to make certain that the commitment we made last session… that we keep that commitment.”
Senator Royce West, Senate Education Committee

The reforms instituted under HB 3 are now even more important with the COVID-related learning loss impacting students across Texas. After the cancellation of the Spring 2020 STAAR tests, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) offered optional end-of-year (EOY) and beginning-of-year (BOY) assessments to measure how well students learned the prior grade-level’s knowledge and skill. The results indicate students experienced 3.2 months of instructional loss from the closures, in addition to the typical 2.5 months of summer learning loss.

Optional 2019-20 End-of-Year Assessment vs. Optional 2020-21 Beginning-of-Year Assessment: Met Grade Level

 

3rd Grade Reading 3rd Grade Math 4th Grade Reading 4th Grade Math 5th Grade Reading 5th Grade Math
EOY 62% 60% 49% 44% 50% 54%
BOY 34% 20% 32% 19% 34% 28%
Difference -28% -40% -17% -25% -16% -26%

This tracks with what other statewide and national studies have found when researching the impacts of the pandemic on student learning. State lawmakers must prioritize funding for education to ensure new programs created under HB 3 are implemented faithfully and the impacts of the pandemic on learning can be addressed promptly.

Federal stimulus funds provide an opportunity get our students back on track. With the recent passage of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA), Texas is expected to receive $5.5 billion for K-12 public schools and $287 million for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund ($153 million of which must be spent on private schools). With these funds, the Legislature should have all it needs to maintain HB 3 funding – with resources potentially left over to make sure COVID learning loss is comprehensively addressed. Targeted investment such as expansion of the additional days for the school year program and intensive tutoring are two items strategies worth consideration.

Texas 2036 has made it a priority to protect funding for the critical evidence-based legislative reforms passed during the 2019 session.


* Remarks to the House on Opening Day of the Texas Legislature, January 12, 2020

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