Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, on Thursday said that the amount of education cuts imposed by the 2011 Legislature was "more on the order of $800 million" and disputed the widely reported figure of $5.4 billion.
Williams made the comments as the Senate Finance Committee approved a plan asking Texas voters to spend $6 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund for transportation and water projects.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said he wants to add $2.4 billion to the package to fully restore $5.4 billion in education cuts made two years ago.
"I think there's information that I'd like to share with all the members of the committee and take a look at what really happened," Williams responded, "because when we consider on an all-funds basis, there weren't $5.4 billion in cuts.
"There were cuts and I wish that we hadn't had to make any of those cuts," he added. "But I think it was more on the order of $800 million when we look at the total impact on school districts." Williams added that, as a result of a proposed state budget, school districts are now "up by about $4.5 billion from where they were."
Williams' assessment brought a fiery reaction from state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who has made restoration of education cuts one of her top priorities.
"It's absurd," she said following the committee meeting. "I'ts the same fuzzy math that the Republican leadership used we we finished the (2011) session claiming to have added money in public education when school districts all over Texas were laying teachers off and enlarging classroom sizes.
Davis said that cuts to education have totaled $8.3 billion since 2009.
Williams said he was receptive to "a thoughtful amendment that would address some of our public education concerns." But Davis said the chairman's comments about the size of the 2011 cuts indicate that "there isn't going to be a a real serious commitment to put this question before voters."
Williams later elaborated on his remarks. "There's been some pretty loose numbers thrown around," he told reporters. "The reality is, if you look at it on an all-funds basis - all sources of money - school districts actually experienced a cut in the aggregate of about $800 million.
"And, then if you look at that over the introduced version of the budget that we have now they're actually up about $4.5 billion," he said.
Williams said he wants to "continue to try to address the concerns about education funding" but he added: "I think it's important that we deal with the facts and that we go about this in a thoughtful manner."
-- Dave Montgomery