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Newsletter: Prioritizing Public Education

The most important bill that any Legislature passes is the state budget that funds education, transportation and other services over the next two years. Writing and approving the state budget is a process that typically requires all five months of the legislative session, and that process has just begun.

Earlier this month, I introduced the initial House budget proposal. Soon I will appoint Members of the House to serve on the Appropriations Committee (and all other committees), and the legislators serving on Appropriations will begin working on their own budget for the full House to consider. In other words, there is a long way to go before the budget reaches the full House for a vote, and even longer to go before the Governor signs a final product into law.

This initial proposal was an opportunity to highlight some of our most important priorities, such as:

Public education. Our budget puts more dollars in the classroom. It provides funding to pay for expected enrollment growth in Texas schools of about 165,000 students over the next two years. It also includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education that is contingent on the Legislature making changes to our school finance system.

Child protection. Many of you have read about severe problems at Child Protective Services. High employee turnover has put a heavy burden on the caseworkers tasked with protecting children from abuse and neglect. In December, the leaders of the House and Senate joined with Governor Abbott to approve new CPS caseworkers and investigators and to provide higher salaries -- two steps that the Governor's administration told us would reduce turnover. Our initial budget continues these initiatives over the next two years.

Mental health. Our proposal also increases funding for behavioral health programs. These additional resources would help eliminate wait lists for needed services, improve early identification efforts and provide funding for the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among Veterans.

As we work on these and other priorities, it's worth noting that the Texas economy has slowed down, thanks in large part to contraction in the oil-and-gas sector. Our initial budget increases spending by less than 1 percent over the next two years and makes sizable spending reductions in a number of areas. The Appropriations Committee will look closely at all of our priorities and expenditures moving forward and make a number of changes to this first draft. In the end, I am confident that the House will produce a balanced budget that addresses the priorities I listed above without raising taxes.

As always, I want to hear about the priorities that are most important to you, so please don't hesitate to contact me at joe@joestraus.org.