School districts across Texas are facing budgetary issues and are waiting to see if help might be coming as the state gets closer to wrapping up this year's legislative session.

The state entered the 88th Legislature with nearly $33 billion in its coffers and a list of funding plans for public schooling. However, beyond a few small examples, larger funding bills have yet to materialize, said Bob Popinski, senior director of policy for Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit education advocacy group.

“It was a session out of balance,” Popinski said. “It was absolutely surprising. ... All the recommendations ended up failing.”

The overview

Multiple school districts across the state are either proposing or approving budget shortfalls for the 2023-24 school year. This is due to a number of economic factors, such as inflation, which has driven up operating costs, as well as state and federal money tied to the COVID-19 pandemic drying up, Popinski said.

On the other side of that issue is an ongoing national teacher shortage with budget issues making it more difficult to increase compensation and retain teachers.

Nearly all proposals aimed at increasing school funding in the legislative session ended up on the cutting room floor, Popinski said. Among those included proposals to increase teacher pay and the per-student allotment funding given to school districts.

The per-student allotment sits at $6,160 and has not been increased since House Bill 3 passed in 2019, Popinski said. The state would need to add roughly $1,000 this year to the allotment to match inflation that’s happened since the last increase.

How we got here

Due to high rates of inflation in recent years—totaling about 18.5% from April 2019-April 2023, according to the Texas comptroller’s office—school districts have had trouble keeping up with rising costs of their operations.

According to budget documents from districts in Community Impact’s coverage areas, some of those items affected by inflation include:
  • Fuel for buses
  • Supplies for schools
  • Teacher pay
  • Property insurance
  • Food
On the state side, many funding bills failed because of efforts to tie them to a private school voucher program as part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s goal to make private institutions more affordable to families in Texas. The program didn’t garner enough support in the Legislature, blocking many bills from passing that otherwise might have had the needed votes, Popinski said.

Put into perspective

While they wait for potential state action, school district officials this summer are approving new budgets—some of which are still anticipating help from the state—and many are predicting shortfalls this upcoming 2023-24 year.

Houston ISD, which is in the middle of a takeover from the state, approved a $2.2 billion budget June 22 with a $168.5 million shortfall, Community Impact previously reported.

Up north, Dallas ISD is expecting a $157.4 million shortfall, according to the district’s proposed budget.

The story rings much the same at Cy-Fair ISD—the state’s third-largest school district—which passed in June a $1.21 billion budget with a roughly $138.6 million shortfall, Community Impact previously reported.

Many are also expecting shortfalls in the coming years too, according to several districts’ budgetary documents.

What they’re saying

In recent months, school district officials from across the state have not been shy about sharing their feelings on the state’s role in this year’s budget-making process.

Board Secretary Lynn Boswell at Austin ISD, which passed a $2.1 billion budget with a $52.25 million shortfall in June, said the state did not help in the district’s budget this year, prompting officials to make “painful choices that impact our students,” Community Impact previously reported.

CFISD Superintendent Mark Henry said his district’s newest budget was the most difficult to prepare in his 32-year career, Community Impact previously reported.

“It’s irresponsible and insidious what the state is doing to public education right now,” Henry said at the district’s June 20 meeting.

Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Abbott, said in a July 6 emailed statement to Community Impact that more money will be made available to school districts when the state passes the school choice legislation, adding it’s an effort to “empower parents.”

“Governor Abbott has prioritized public education funding and support for our hardworking teachers throughout his time in office,” Mahaleris said in the statement.

What happens next?

Despite many school officials’ comments throughout the state, there is still time for the state Legislature to pass something. The state is working through special sessions right now, which could include some school funding bills, Popinski said.

In the meantime, with shortfalls and a growing need to increase teacher compensation, many districts will likely be dipping into their fund balances to make ends meet, Popinski said.

“School districts are in a pretty tough position going forward,” he said.

Correction: The article had the incorrect budget shortfall amount for Houston ISD. This has been corrected.