Amid a projected $2.2 million budget shortfall, the Eanes ISD board of trustees' Legislative Subcommittee is outlining a list of priorities—including more funding for safety and special needs services, investing in mental health resources, and cracking down on high-stakes standardized testing—ahead of the 89th Texas Legislature in January.

The subcommittee, which consists of board president James Spradley as well as trustees Laura Clark and Heather Sheffield, discussed these priorities with the rest of the board during a special meeting June 4.

The plan

School districts across the state are compiling a list of priorities to take to the next legislative session.

EISD's draft of priorities asks legislators to provide more state funding for:
  • School safety and security mandates
  • Mental health resources and staffing
  • Days for students to visit colleges and explore careers
  • Maintaining and refreshing instructional technology
  • Special needs services
  • Resources to improve cybersecurity and online safety

The priorities also ask legislators to:
  • De-emphasize high-stakes standardized testing
  • Incentivize educator recruitment and retention
  • Give a discount to districts that make early recapture payments
  • Add an inflation index and local cost-of-living adjustment to funding
  • Convert copper pennies to golden pennies in the funding formula
  • Put excess recapture collections in the basic allotment
  • Provide access to affordable housing options
  • Devote more funding to unfunded mandates
  • Give incremental increases to offset rising Teacher Retirement System of Texas benefits
  • Prioritize formula funding over grant funding to better reflect expenses

The other side

Sheffield said while she does not have high hopes for the Legislature to divert funds to school districts at the next session, being more direct—such as presenting bills directly to legislators—could help leverage some funds.

“Rather than just hoping and crossing our fingers that something happens, I think we’re going to need to be a little bit more proactive in a way that we haven’t been in the past," Sheffield said. "If we have specific needs, I think we need to make sure that our legislators are very aware of them. If we’re spending ‘X’ amount of money on safety and security at a campus, we need to say, ‘We need ‘X’ amount of money to cover the safety and security on our campuses’ so that it’s very clear.”

Sheffield also said instead of coming with a fully baked list of priorities, the district should involve local elected legislators so they can collaborate on the list.

Keep in mind

In May, Jon Rosenthal and 38 other state representatives—including Vikki Goodwin and Donna Howard, who serve as representatives for districts 47 and 48 in EISD, respectively—signed a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott calling for a special session to increase the basic allotment and school safety allotment.

“Texas public schools are facing serious budget challenges from inflation, historic underfunding and unfunded mandates that will drive drastic budget cuts in ISDs across the state,” the letter states. “These issues arise from the state’s failure to improve school funding since 2019. ... Right now, we have $5 billion appropriated and unspent for public education in the current state budget, plus a current surplus of $18 billion that is projected to grow to $21.3 billion by next session.”

Abbott later responded that he and Rep. Brad Buckley worked on a school choice and public school funding package during two special sessions last year that would have added $6 billion in school funding, which “all of the representatives who signed this letter voted to kill.”

The bill—House Bill 1—would approve vouchers that give families public funds to pay for private education.

“The makeup of the Texas House of Representatives has not changed since you rejected that proposal, which means there is no possibility for it to pass during another special session unless you are willing to change your position to support the Buckley bill,” Abbott said in his letter. “I do believe, however, that with the changes taking place in the Texas House, we will have an opportunity to reconsider this legislation in the next regular session."

Abbott also suggested that some public schools are facing shortfalls because their districts are no longer receiving Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds for COVID-19 recovery, and that their lowering student enrollment is due to parents’ “growing dissatisfaction with the ideological leanings of education.”

What’s next

A final list of EISD's legislative priorities will be presented for discussion and approval at a board meeting this fall. The Legislature will convene in regular session Jan. 14, 2025.