House, Senate budgets differ on public education funding, align on child services

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Both chambers of the Texas Legislature proposed budget recommendations Tuesday highlighting funding priorities for the next two years.

Although the appropriated amount varies between the House and the Senate, both have money dedicated toward public education, mental health and Child Protective Services. 

The proposed budgets come after Comptroller Glenn Hegar said the Legislature would have $104.9 billion available in state general revenue to craft the biennial budget, a 2.7 decrease from last session. Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Senate Bill 1 Tuesday, which would use $103.6 billion of those state-allocated funds. The House budget allocates $108.8 billion in general revenue, $4 billion more than Hegar’s estimates. 

“We have difficult decisions to make this session,” said Nelson, chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

The two budgets differ greatly in their allocation of funding toward public education.

The Senate’s proposed budget, a total of $213.4 billion, would not make changes to public and higher education funding formulas and maintains Texas’ major financial aid programs such as the TEXAS Grant. Nelson’s budget also includes an additional $2.65 billion to accommodate growth in student enrollment, which is projected to be 80,000 new students per year.

The House’s proposal accommodates for an increased enrollment of 165,000 students over the next two years and an additional $1.5 billion toward education if legislation to improve the school finance system passes.  

According to the Texas Tribune, the House’s proposal gives $2.2 billion more in state funding to public education than the Senate’s. 

House Speaker Joe Straus said public education is one of his priorities. 

“We keep overall spending low while making investments in children and our future,” Straus said. “This is the first step toward producing a balanced budget that reflects the priorities of the Texas House and does not raise taxes.”

Outside of education, the budgets align on the issue of child protection. The Senate budget includes a $260 million increase to the needs of CPS, while the House allocates an additional $268 million. This comes after both chambers and Gov. Greg Abbott approved an initiative to hire new caseworkers and investigators to decrease employee turnover. 

Nelson’s budget maintains the $800 million allocated toward border security, while Straus’ would reduce this spending to $663 million. 

In accordance with Proposition 7, which voters passed in 2015, both chambers approved additional tax revenue up to $2.5 billion that would go toward the Texas Department of Transportation, according to The Texas Tribune.

Both chambers’ proposals said eliminating waiting lists at mental health care facilities is a priority, as well as funding programs which assist veterans with mental health issues. SB 1 commits $1 billion toward the state hospital system and other state facilities and keeps funding for women’s health programs at current levels. The House budget would increase funding for behavioral health by $162 million. 

Some reductions in the Senate budget come from reducing higher education non-educational programs. Nelson said the school finance system and health care costs under Medicaid and retirement programs are listed as “critical budget decisions.” Straus said his budget plans to cut Medicaid costs by $100 million and to reduce funding for administrative and discretionary programs across state agencies.

Both proposals will be further evaluated later on in the session after committees are formed.