AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas House passed its budget Thursday night after a marathon debate to decide how to spend taxpayer money over the next two years. The big takeaway is more money for education.
The budget was framed in the lens of an economy recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, with priorities focused on public education. There’s also uncertainty among budget writers in terms of how much federal money is expected to land in the state from coronavirus aid packages.
“The Committee Substitute to Senate Bill 1 illustrates our dedication to education and prioritizes ensuring quality education for all our children, while also addressing the ill effects of COVID-19 on both public and higher education,” State Rep. Terry Wilson, R-Marble Falls, said. “While overall you won’t see many additional funding items adopted at this time, the committee had some very robust discussions in our responsibility to support the state’s education system and how to address the uncertainty we’re facing this session given our current funding situation.”
Using federal money to boost state spending, not replace it
To ready the state for when that money does arrive and which areas it may assist, the House approved an amendment to send nearly $18 billion in federal aid directly to education.
“The first round of federal dollars that we got, we actually supplanted state funds with that money. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen this time,” said State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin.
“It goes through TEA (Texas Education Agency), but it’s gonna go to the schools, no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Rodriguez said.
No public money for private schools
The chamber also approved a proposal to prevent public dollars to pay for private schools.
Amendments to the House version of the budget also included allocations to the state’s “Alternatives to Abortions” program and bulletproof glass for state trooper vehicles.
An amendment to expand Medicaid in Texas was voted down.
House members adopted an amendment to force a special legislative session should federal relief money arrive to the state after the conclusion of the regular session. Doing so means more lawmakers would have influence over where that money goes, rather than a small group of appropriators or the governor.
It’s unknown how many of the provisions the House put in on Thursday will remain in the final version of the budget. The Senate passed its version already. Key members from each chamber will meet to iron out the differences between the two versions of the budget in a conference committee ahead of the final day of the session on May 31.