When the Texas House filed its base budget Tuesday, plenty of attention was paid to how much money the bill spent on things like health care programs and public schools. But there where a handful of programs that - so far - are getting no money at all.
It’s called being zeroed out. The line item is still there in the budget, but just followed with zeros. It’s a political move. Items that are zeroed out typically get some or even all funding back. But only after changes have been made to how the program functions.
In the House budget, the state’s current standardized testing system, the STAAR test, is among the programs zeroed out. The move comes amid a debate over the state’s reliance on standardized testing.
“We want to start the conversation on testing," said House Budget writer and Republican state representative Jim Pitts. "And we’re gonna have a lot of hearings between now and the end of the session on education and some things that we’re going to do in education. And we sure want testing to be one of the number one things. And that’s why we did it.”
Texas Education Agency spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe says its the first time she remembers the tactic of zeroing out being used on the standardized testing system.
“It’s clear that a lot of parents and legislators want to have that discussion, and zeroing it out in the budget virtually assures that conversation is going to happen," Ratcliff said. She added that if lawmakers don't fund standardized testing, it could put TEA in violation of state and federal laws.
Also zeroed out in the initial House budget: the Governor’s economic development funds – along with film incentives and the Comptrollers major events fund. That’s the fund that helped lure Formula 1 racing to Austin.