WASHINGTON — After a standoff between Texas Democrats and Republicans that spanned nearly nine months, Congress has released $830 million in education funding for Texas as part of the federal budget deal negotiated last week.
It's unclear yet what this will mean for local school districts. Tarrant County area schools originally were set to receive about $60 million of those funds, with $21 million going to the Fort Worth school district, depending on how the formula was calculated.
Fort Worth school trustees are set to vote on employee cuts, eliminating 553 positions.
Fort Worth school district spokesman Clint Bond said district administrators are trying to figure out the impact. "The initial reaction is that we still don't know very much," Bond said.
Bond added that "we don't know with what restrictions the money might come."
The repeal of the so-called Doggett amendment was included in the short-term continuing resolution — which funds the government through April 15 — in an effort led by Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville, who prevailed in getting a rider attached to the funding bill and then lobbied House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to retain it during last week's brinkmanship budget negotiations.
The amendment written by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, was designed to force Texas Gov. Rick Perry to spend federal monies on education, but it led to stalling the release of the funds to the state. Perry and other GOP lawmakers said a demand that the governor certify he wouldn't use funds for anything else effectively committed the state to spend a certain amount of money on education funding over three years, which would violate the state's Constitution. The Texas Legislature meets in regular session only once every two years, and budgets are done in two-year cycles.
Perry said the Doggett amendment was a "cheap political stunt" and he was glad it rescinded.
"They had their fun, but at the end of the day, it was going to be very harmful to Texas children and teachers," he said after speaking Tuesday during a Hatton W. Sumners Distinguished Lecture Series in Dallas. "So this is good news."
Doggett was not happy with the provision that was included in the budget deal.
"Removing all accountability on Governor Perry's use of $830 million of federal aid to education by repealing the 'Save Our Schools' Amendment is one of many unwise concessions made to Republicans to avoid their threatened government shutdown," Doggett said in a statement.
"If this federal money is added to the funding for our schools contained in the state Senate Finance bill, our purpose can still be achieved," said Doggett. "If it simply replaces proposed state funding, then the concern of state educators, who sought our amendment, will be justified." Added Doggett: "Our sole objective has remained to ensure that federal aid to education actually aids local Texas schools with additional help rather than being diverted by the state as occurred in 2009 with $3.25 billion of federal aid. The governor and the Legislature still have the power to do right by our Texas children."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who had what amounted to a verbal smackdown of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month over the issue, said, "It is welcome news for Texas students and teachers that this critical funding has been recovered after an untimely political stunt jeopardized these much-needed resources."
"Petty politics have no place in what should be an otherwise simple equation that fairly distributes federal education dollars to each state. Texas schools were unfairly penalized and left in the dark during one of their most challenging budgeting years to date. I'm relieved this has been resolved and hope these resources make their way to Texas classrooms as quickly as possible," Cornyn said.
Texas' senior senator agreed.
"It was unthinkable to deny Texas schools access to emergency funds that are available to every other state," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.
"While state and local budgets, and property taxes, are strained to the limits, our schools should not be needlessly excluded from accessing available assistance," said Hutchison, who has been working for months to have the anti-Texas language removed from the funding bill. "Congressman Burgess and I worked hard to have this anti-Texas provision taken out of the budget bill. Texas schools and students will no longer be unfairly singled out and penalized."
Larry Shaw, executive director of Fort Worth-based United Educators Association, an employee group, said that he hopes the money will help save jobs, noting that 80 percent of school district costs are related to personnel.
But, Shaw said, concerns are that state officials will put the federal money in the state's general fund and use it for other purposes. "We want the money and we want it for education, not highways," he said. "That's a lot of money at a time we desperately need it."
(Eva-Marie Ayala, Anna M. Tinsley and Jessamy Brown of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram contributed to this story.)