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Despite the Talk, the Republican-Led Texas Legislature Is Unlikely to Find New Funding for Public Schools 

Dennis Bonnen (center), the likely successor to former Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss, will be among the Texas lawmakers struggling to find funds for public schools. - FACEBOOK / DENNIS BONNEN
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  • Dennis Bonnen (center), the likely successor to former Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss, will be among the Texas lawmakers struggling to find funds for public schools.
The Texas Legislature kicked off its 86th regular session today with elected officials continuing their pledge to make reforming the state's public schools a top priority.

But if you believe the lege will actually write new checks to make that happen, maybe we could talk you into investing in some nice beachfront property in Midland.

For all the talk about boosting funding for public education, the Republican-controlled lege is unlikely to line up any new sources, warns Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson. Instead, a longstanding aversion to taxes will lead it to shuffle around money already in the state's ultra-tight budget.

"The current Republican majority is unwilling to find new sources of revenue, so they're stymied," Jillson said. "At this point, all they can really do is rearrange the deck chairs."

On a per-student basis, Texas spends 85 percent of the national average on public education, which doesn't exactly give lawmakers much cash to play with.

"It's just implausible to argue that if we spend more wisely that we can get bang for our buck that other states are unable to get," Jillson said. "Those states are also trying hard to get the most for their money."

Complicating matters, Republicans also pledged to use the session to rein in property taxes — the primary funding source for Texas' public schools. Gov. Greg Abbott has proposed that local property tax revenue growth be capped at a paltry 2.5 percent per year.

Meanwhile, the state's share of public education funding has slipped from 50 percent in 2006 to around 36 percent today, forcing municipalities to continue escalating looking for new tax revenues to keep pace with school enrollments.

"We've got a situation where the state is underfulfilling its responsibility and local government's had to step in," Jillson said.

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