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Little Opposition to Measure That Would Increase School Funding

Proposition 6 on the Texas constitutional ballot would allow the land commissioner to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to public education. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports that the measure has seen little opposition.

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Texas lawmakers passed a budget this year that cut $4 billion dollars from K-12 public education. As negotiations on those cuts came to a boil during the legislative session, there were also efforts to figure out how to squeeze additional money out of other funds to help cushion the budget blow. That's where state Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, and a few other lawmakers came in with what became Proposition 6.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

Orr said it was needed because the state's school land trust fund, which includes oil and gas revenues, had ballooned while payments to public schools had not.

"That fund had grown to over two and a half billion dollars in cash. But very little of it was getting directly to education," Orr said, "so this was a way for the General Land Office to make a direct deposit to the available school fund."

If passed, the constitutional amendment would allow the land commissioner to send no more than $300 million each year to spend in the state's public education budget. The measure passed the House and Senate unanimously, but some have worried it would allow the land commissioner to transfer more than the fund generated. That could weaken the fund and limit its ability to keep up with inflation.

But Orr said that shouldn't happen. "Income coming in over the last 15 years, when you look at it on an annual basis, it's been generating about $500 million a year," Orr said, "and there's a cap of $300 million. And so the fund will keep growing even if the General Land Office sends up to the $300 million."

There's nothing keeping a land commissioner from continuing to transfer $300 million even if the fund generates less. But Orr said that if that happened, the commissioner would have to answer to voters for those actions.

Early voting ends Friday. Election Day is Nov. 8.

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