Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath speaks during a Texas State Board of Education meeting in April.
Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has delayed return to school plans as the coronavirus continues to cause uncertainty throughout the state. Credit: Stephen Spillman for the San Antonio Report

An early projection has Texas decreasing state funding to public education, and largely using local taxes to fill the gap.

In its preliminary budget request ahead of next year’s legislative session, the Texas Education Agency projected a drop in the state’s general revenue for public education by more than $3.5 billion over the next couple of years, in part because the revenue from local property taxes is expected to skyrocket. General revenue only makes up part of the state’s education funding.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath confirmed this projection in front of a state budget panel Wednesday morning as he laid out the state agency’s budget request through 2021.

The Foundation School Program, the main way of distributing state funds to Texas public schools, includes both state general revenue and local property tax revenue. Local property values are expected to grow by about 6.8 percent each year, and existing statute requires the state to use that money first before factoring in state funding.

TEA staff members emphasized that the budget request is far from final, in part because current student enrollment numbers will not come out until later this fall.

Educator and parent advocates have pushed state officials to put more money into public schools, instead of absorbing local tax revenue into the system.

“The state needs to kick in their fair share,” said special education advocate and parent Heather Sheffield to the panel Wednesday. “Property taxpayers are fed up with the fact that the state is not funding public education.”

The budget proposal also includes additional funding requests for two key priorities of Gov. Greg Abbott: special education and school violence prevention.

In the wake of a spate of school shootings across the country, including one at a Houston-area high school this spring, the agency is asking for an additional $54 million to help schools provide students with mental health counselors, increase the number of law enforcement officers and armed teachers in schools, and help train school officials on keeping students safe.

The proposal also includes a request for $50 million to help school districts find and provide special education services for children Texas failed to help educate over the last several years. A federal investigation that concluded this winter found Texas had effectively capped special education, in violation of federal law, and mandated specific improvements.

Morath said that $50 million would likely be distributed to school districts in the form of grants in the next biennium starting September 2019.

Special education advocates and educators Wednesday asked for that money to be distributed sooner, and warned that hundreds of thousands more students are expected to qualify for additional services by 2021.

“If we do have an increase in student population, there has got to be a way to get that out to them sooner,” said Kristin McGuire, director of governmental relations at the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education.

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Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune

Aliyya Swaby started as the Texas Tribune's public education reporter in October 2016. She came to the Tribune from the hyperlocal nonprofit New Haven Independent, where she covered education, zoning,...