by Coy Holcombe.
Back from Austin. Overall, it was a good conference with lots of information and thoughts on the 81st legislature and the impact it will have on education. On Tuesday, we started with a panel of experts on education. Amy Beneski, associate executive director of TASA, went first. She reviewed events of the 81st legislature. One of her most interesting statements had to do with the next biennium. She stated that there are already rumors that the 82nd legislature will face a budget short fall exceeding $10 billion.
Beaman Floyd, also with TASA, was the next panel member. While he also reviewed recent legislative matters, he also talked about the impact that the economy has had on the TRS fund. He stated that before the economic downturn, the TRS fund was valued at around $100 billion. During the first part of the downturn, the fund dropped as low as $60 billion. It has now rebounded to more than $80 billion.
Lynn Moak, of Moak, Casey and Associates, discussed some of the financial issues that came out of the 81st legislature. He pointed out the while there was $2 billion funneled into education this session, that this $2 billion represents about 2% of overall education funding over the biennium. He also stated that there seems to be a disconnect between standards and resources and that the hard choices were left up to the local districts.
David Thompson, an education law attorney, was the last panel member. Overall, he stated that he would give this legislative session a C+ or a B-. He stated that he believed that this legislative session will be remembered as a session characterized by missed chances and opportunities. Mr. Thompson also speculated about how a future lawsuit against the state on funding might play out.
The next session featured Omar Garcia discussing the latest template for estimating state aid. Omar is the creator of the state aid template for districts. He worked in the TEA financial division for a number of years. He is now a financial consultant with Region 13 in Austin. Omar pointed out that while there was some movement to get back to a formula driven system. that we are still very much in a target revenue system: the target levels are just higher than they were in the previous funding system. He re-emphasized what we had heard on Monday: school districts will now have to apply for a certain amount of state funding and submit electronic payment requests to receive this money. There will be more coding requirements because this money is actually federal money. Omar stated that the high school allotment funds are now being flowed through the foundation school formula and would not require a separate code. Instead a new intent code would be developed by TEA to help track these funds. Finally, Omar stated that he felt that indirect costs percentages would increase. This will be a decision made by the commissioner.
Overall, a good conference. There are still many questions that need to be answered. I know that TEA is working to get these answers to districts as soon as possible. As we receive these answers, we will pass on that information to you.