DALLAS — A coalition of Texas public education advocates called on state lawmakers Tuesday to use the rainy day fund and billions of dollars of unanticipated tax revenues to restore $5.4 billion in school spending cuts in the current two-year state budget.
The state can find enough money to adequately fund public education in fiscal 2014-2015 by tapping the $8 billion rainy day fund and by using $4.5 billion of unexpected tax revenues announced by Comptroller Susan Combs in August, Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said at a news conference at the State Capitol in Austin.
“There are no more excuses about the dollars,” Villarreal said. “We have the money. We have the resources. Stop sitting on it.”
Villarreal was joined at the news conference by officials of education associations and representatives from several groups suing the state over the school funding system.
Villarreal said he was prompted to call for the additional money for public education after the Texas Education Agency last month filed a budget proposal for 2014-2015 that does not restore funding for enrollment growth or programs curtailed by the 2011 cuts.
“Today, we are angry,” he said. “There is a faction in the state of Texas that does not want to invest in the next generation, that wants to walk away from what has been an historic covenant.”
The 2011 Legislature reduced state aid to local school districts by $5.4 billion as part of $12 billion of spending cuts in anticipation of a revenue shortfall of $27 billion in fiscal 2012 and 2013.
The reduction in state assistance has led local school districts to lay off more than 11,000 teachers, Villarreal said, and hundreds of librarians and other support staff.
“These cuts have harmed our children’s future, and we need to restore them,” he said.
Tom Archer, director of Our Values, Our Texas political action group, said the spending cuts were a result of faulty forecasting by the comptroller’s office that badly underestimated state revenues.
“These cuts were unnecessary,” he said. “The $5.4 billion (of cuts) should not have happened.
“The fiscal projections were flawed. The state of Texas is doing better than many would have you believe.”
A spokeswoman for Combs said the revenue projections were based on the best available models and information.
Gov. Rick Perry has been adamant about either preserving the rainy day fund for severe financial emergencies or using it to provide tax relief to small businesses. He repeated that stance in Houston on Tuesday.
“We’ve got approaching $9 billion in the rainy day fund in Texas, which allows us to have a bond rating that is one of the best in the country,” Perry told the International Economic Development Council.
In June, the Legislative Budget Board and Perry’s budget director told state agencies to not request more general fund appropriations in the next two-year budget than in the current one.
The agencies also were directed to develop contingency budgets dealing with spending cuts of 5% and 10% without eliminating existing departments or services.