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Texas Legislators Still In An Education Funding Battle

By Bud Gillett, CBS 11 News
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AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – It’s the 11th hour for school education funding in Texas. Legislators have a self-imposed 5 p.m. Friday deadline to work out differences between House and Senate funding bills.

There will still likely be a $4 billion hole to fill, and some districts have already made hard choices. “Well, it makes it difficult to budget,” said Mesquite ISD Superintendent Dr. Linda Henrie.

According to Henrie, administrators in Mesquite started planning in January. But now the district, like others across the state, has begun taking budget-cutting steps by eliminating programs and 112 positions.

“We’re absorbing all of that [position elimination] through attrition, we haven’t laid off anyone,” Henrie told CBS 11 News. “We’re also planning to close down our planetarium. We’re reducing our budget across the board by six to seven-percent, depending on the category: travel, supplies, materials.”

Rena Honea represents Dallas ISD teachers and says the district has already lost between 1600 to 1700 employees. She says even if teachers themselves aren’t laid off, the loss of the material things — like supplies and support staff — hurts the learning environment.

“There’s such an attitude from so many of the newer legislators that they are there to balance this budget in Texas, whatever it takes, it doesn’t matter,” Honea said of the actions in Austin. “But we will pay severe consequences for that in the future when we go to find a strong educated workforce.”

Governor Perry attended a bill signing ceremony on Friday, but didn’t discuss the looming deadline or possibility of a special session if a budget compromise isn’t met.

Back in Mesquite, Dr. Henrie insists that the suggested compromise of making schools cut equally across the board isn’t a good one. “Equal is not necessarily equitable and we believe it would be very harmful to low-target revenue districts,” she said.

Henrie believes districts like hers already receive less state money per student because of the way the legislature restructured school property tax revenues in 2006.

“We’re going to have fewer people, and because we’re a low target revenue district, we already have fewer people so it’s definitely going to cut us right through the bone.” Henrie goes on to say, “My optimism is that there will be those that say we’ve got to do our best for everyone involved, and we’ve got to look at this and be sure we’re doing the least damage to those that are already funded at a low level.”

As of late Friday evening, there was reportedly a ‘hybrid’ compromise plan in the works. Legislators continue to try and hammer out a compromise behind closed doors.

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