DALLAS — A provision in the recent federal budget compromise will release $832 million of frozen education funds to Texas.
The federal money had been held up for almost nine months by Texas officials’ refusal to pledge the state would not reduce state aid for public education for three years.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said he attached the continuation requirement to a 2010 education bill to prevent Republican Gov. Rick Perry from diverting the federal education money into the state’s general fund.
Doggett said unfreezing the funds was “just one of many unwise concessions” by Democratic leaders during negotiations with congressional Republicans.
“Our sole objective has remained to ensure that federal aid to education actually aids local Texas schools with additional help rather than being diverted by the state as occurred in 2009 with $3.25 billion of federal aid,” he said.
Perry and other GOP elected officials said such a pledge would violate state constitutional provisions that limit spending to two-year budgets.
The compromise congressional spending plan that avoided a shutdown of the federal government early this week repeals that requirement. Details of the budget agreement were released Tuesday.
Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said the governor was pleased with the repeal agreement, but would not be reassured until Congress adopts the overall spending proposal.
“The governor has made no secret about his desire to repeal the Doggett amendment in order to access this funding for Texas classrooms,” Frazier said. “We are closely monitoring efforts to repeal it.”
Perry called the Doggett amendment “a cheap political stunt” and said the repeal was good news.
“They had their fun, but at the end of the day, it was going to be very harmful to Texas children and teachers,” he said.
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Texas Senate Finance Committee, said the federal money would not be diverted.
“We’ll put it to a good cause,” he said. “It will go to education.”
The current Texas House budget bill calls for a $7.8 billion reduction in state aid to local education over two years, while the Senate Education Committee proposal would reduce spending by $4 billion from current levels.
The Senate budget bill already assumed the $832 million would be released, according to Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
The Doggett provision would have required the state to distribute the money to local districts based on the percentage of poor students in the schools. The state is expected to instead allocate the federal funds on a formula based on total student enrollment.
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she was relieved that the federal money will be available.
“You couldn’t have gotten $832 million at a better time,” said Shapiro, who has criticized proposed budget cuts to education. “The timing is perfect.”
If the Doggett measure had not been repealed, the federal education money originally earmarked for Texas schools would have reverted to the U.S. Treasury on Sept. 30.