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By W. Gardner Selby June 4, 2011

Michael Sullivan says lawmakers increased public school funding while cutting budget by $15 billion

Michael Sullivan, who exhorted legislators to hold the line on the 2012-13 state budget, suggests things aren’t as terrible as critics say. Specifically, Sullivan said in a May 26 tweet: "State budget being cut $15bil by #TxLege, but public education is getting more money than last biennium."

Is that the deal?

Some background: The Republican-steered Legislature dealt with a $20 billion-plus shortfall by writing a budget that appropriates $172 billion, which is down $15 billion from what the 2009 Legislature appropriated for 2010-11, as Sullivan says.

Gov. Rick Perry and others have noted the new budget doesn’t require tax increases and also doesn’t tap the rainy day fund, which is projected to hold more than $6 billion by the end of August 2013.

The same budget whittles programs, though. It’s $4.8 billion shy of covering projected Medicaid costs--a gap that leaders hope the economy closes before the 2013 Legislature confronts budgetary issues. The budget also gives school districts $4 billion less than what they would have gotten under existing funding formulas intended to cover enrollment growth.

All told, the budgeted $53.83 billion in public education spending tops--by .2 percent--the $53.7 billion budgeted for public education the previous two years, according to Legislative Budget Board summaries. That $125.2 million increase derives from a $3 billion increase in state spending on public education minus a nearly $2.8 billion decrease in federal spending.

So, total spending is going down $15 billion and public education spending is (narrowly) up.

Anything missing from this picture?

Lobbyist Lynn Moak, whose clients include an alliance of big school districts, told us that while Sullivan’s figures hold up, the implication that schools stand to gain from this budget is incorrect, given that districts will get $4 billion less than they were due under existing law.

We asked Sullivan, president of Empower Texans, a group advocating limited government and less taxation, how he characterizes that $4 billion difference. He replied by email: "So many numbers tossed around by so many folks about so many things, I could not possibly characterize something so vague . . . How one might wish to characterize those (not enough, too much, just right) is outside this discussion about my tweet noting that the new budget DOES have more dollars in it than the last for public education at the same time over all spending is being cut."

Historical note: Four of the five previous budgets signed into law by Perry included increases in public school funding. And unlike the 2012-13 budget awaiting his consideration, all five budgets gave schools the aid due them based on state funding formulas. According to the budget board, the overall public education two-year funding increases were 2 percent in 2002-03, 3.3 percent in 2004-05, 7.5 percent in 2006-07 and 34 percent in 2008-09. Funding dipped .9 percent in 2010-11.

Spending on public education is higher in the pending budget than the current one. But Sullivan’s implication--that Texas schools are sitting pretty--obscures reality. The new budget doesn’t cover projected enrollment growth. We rate the statement Half True.

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Michael Sullivan says lawmakers increased public school funding while cutting budget by $15 billion

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