The first draft of the state's budget came out this week, and education leaders say it doesn't look good for them. Under the proposed plan, future college students couldn't tap state financial aid and four state community colleges would close as higher education would take a $1.7 billion hit.
But the hardest hit could be Texas public schools, which could lose $5 billion in funds. The Legislative Budget Board recommends eliminating funds that help pay for pre-kindergarten, arts education, teacher incentive pay and technology. School leaders fear that will also translate to job cuts. The plan could force a school finance reform show down as the LBB recommends cutting districts' funds by 14 percent and districts at the low end of "target revenue," such as Fort Worth and Crowley, have vowed to fight. (Target revenue is the per-pupil amount of state funding schools get that is different for each district.)
Fort Worth officials have said the recommended cuts would mean about a $75-80 million loss for the district, which could likely mean job cuts. Additionally, the cut in teacher incentives could drastically affect the district's PEAK program, which offers sign-on and performance bonuses aimed at getting the best teachers to the district's most struggling schools. Officials have credited dramatic gains at those schools to the PEAK program. But losing $4.8 million in state aid is a big hit, chief financial officer Hank Johnson said. He said Fort Worth could try using federal funds to make up for it, but those monies have different rules and standards attached that the district will have to research.
Keller recently opened a new early childhood center that serves 3- and 4-year-olds. Officials there said the loss of pre-kindergarten funds would not affect their program. However, other districts have said they may have to consider cutting back to half-day classes or reduce offerings if the LBB recommendations go through. Keller officials are worried what a loss of technology funds would mean to them.