By Shannon Najmabadi
A simmering school-finance battle bubbled back to life Wednesday in separate hearings that brought up Texas’ educational endowment, the largest in the country.
While lawmakers in the Capitol recommended making significant changes to the fund, members of the State Board of Education lamented in their own meeting that the School Land Board has so far stood by a funding decision they announced in Augustand that immediately garnered controversy.
“They need to reconsider now,” state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said Wednesday night.
At the center of the clash is an unconventional disbursement proposed by the land board, a three-person body headed by Republican Land Commissioner George P. Bush that manages the state’s public school endowment.
In past years, the land board sent money from that endowment to the education board, which earmarks some of the dollars for textbooks, and to the Available School Fund, a stream legislators tap to pay for classroom expenses.
This year, the board opted to pump $600 million directly into the Available School Fund, bypassing the State Board of Education for funding for the first time.
The maneuver, which Bush said would more efficiently help school children, caused immediate upset among education board members. By skirting their board, “instructional materials will be cut by $300 million and property-poor districts, which make up the overwhelming majority of school districts in the state, are going to see a reduction,” said State Board of Education member David Bradley, in an interview.
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