Senator says education cuts were overestimated

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Apr. 11, 2013

BY DAVE MONTGOMERY
dmontgomery@star-telegram.com

AUSTIN -- Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said Thursday 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 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 Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who has made restoration of education cuts one of her top priorities.

"It's absurd," she said after the committee meeting. "It's the same fuzzy math that the Republican leadership used 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 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 his comments about the size of the 2011 cuts indicate that "there isn't going to be 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."

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief. 512-739-4471

Twitter: @daveymontgomery

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