Cy-Fair ISD Budget Cuts Crash Course

Bryan James Henry
12 min readMay 3, 2024


Many residents in Cy-Fair ISD, like myself, are understandably frustrated by the current budget crisis. While contentious school policies and school board drama are not new given the last 4 years, which has included a pandemic and book controversies, what is new is the prospect of destructive budget cuts that for some feel more tangible than “Culture War” disagreements. For example, I started a non-partisan group called Cypress Families for Public Schools after the 2021 school board election in part because I was alarmed at the hostility towards diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. The group grew quickly on Facebook, and we have done lots of great work in the community, from adopting Wilson Elementary to providing annual scholarships to CFISD graduates and of course informing and mobilizing voters. However, the new CFISD Parents for Librarians group, also formed on Facebook, has grown at an astounding pace reaching over 5,000 people in a matter of days. Why? Because the community is understandably outraged by the looming budget cuts and the possibility of losing beloved school leaders like librarians.

I attended a meeting hosted by the new group at Juergen’s Hall and can attest that their cause has brought new people into the activism/advocacy space that haven’t “gotten political” before. I watched the Cy-Fair Board of Trustees Work Session on May 2, where the room appeared to be full, and it was clear to me that there is a lot of passion about the causes of the budget crisis and confusion about the solutions. I am writing this to provide a quick “crash course” for people who know how they feel, but maybe don’t know enough about the mechanics of state government or recent political history to connect all the dots. Who am I to provide such information? I started teaching high school in 2010–11 and was laid off, along with all first-year teachers district-wide (not CFISD), during my first year in the classroom due to budget cuts.

Not surprisingly, this experience lit a fire for activism and advocacy that still burns today. Lots of fires are being lit in Cy-Fair ISD right now. After teaching English and Social Studies at the secondary level for 9 years, I took a position within higher education at a community college where I teach Texas Government and American Government. Long story short: I have the personal experiences and academic knowledge to comment on this stuff in what I hope is a useful way. If you are a resident, parent, student, educator, or administrator that is passionate about public education, but have never really been politically active or angry at lawmakers before, then this article is for you.


How did we get here? Cy-Fair ISD Superintendent Dr. Killian sent an email to the community summarizing many of the sources of the current budget crisis. He listed things like lower student attendance, the (to me) often confusing stuff about local optional homestead exemptions (LOHE), inflation, and increased costs for services like special education. I also detected a subtle attempt to shift blame from state government toward the federal government, which as I’ll argue is mis-guided at best and deliberately misleading at worst. One useful aspect of Dr. Killian’s email is that it highlights the complexity of the problem and draws our attention to the multiple expenses and revenue streams that make up school budgets. It is NOT simple.

That being said, one of the biggest, and simplest, sources of revenue is the state government’s basic allotment, which is the amount of money the state provides the district per student. The basic allotment has not increased since 2019 and inflation has been very high since then. All school districts in Texas, not just Cy-Fair ISD, desperately need the state government to increase the basic allotment. Fortunately, this isn’t 2010–11 when the state cut $5 billion from public education due to the Great Recession. Right now, Texas has a historic surplus of over $30 billion. The state could easily make a massive investment in its public education system, not only to make up for inflation since 2019, but to improve what has long been an under-funded system that educates 1 out of every 10 American children!

Here are the facts. And here’s where things get “political.” If you don’t believe me, then go read for yourself. If you don’t like what you hear, then sit with that and do some thinking. Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick are passionately in support of implementing a “voucher” program in Texas that would allow parents to use public tax dollars to pay for private school. The debate over “vouchers” or “school choice” is not new. It has been around for decades, and we don’t need to get into the details of the pros/cons of vouchers or why some people want them. What is relevant for Cy-Fair ISD and the budget cuts, is the fact that passing a “voucher” bill was Governor Abbott’s top priority last year. He traveled across the state to private Christian schools to have rallies in support of it. He even visited Cypress Christian School, where state representative Tom Oliverson and Cy-Fair ISD Board of Trustees President Scott Henry were in attendance.

For those who have forgotten or are unfamiliar, the Texas legislature meets biennially, that is, every other year, for a 140-day “regular session.” So, from January to May 2023 the “Lege” was meeting in Austin to craft a budget for the following two years and pass any other bills impacting state issues. According to the Texas Constitution, the governor, and only the governor, can call a 30-day special session. As you can imagine, it is typical for the governor to call a special session if the Texas Senate and Texas House fail to pass bills during the regular session that the governor wants passed. In 2023, the Texas House failed to pass a “voucher” bill and Governor Abbott called a special session.

What basically happened is this: Governor Abbott refused to sign any bill increasing funding for public schools unless the Texas House agreed to pass his “voucher” bill. Why did the Texas House refuse to do so? Because an alliance of Democrats and Republicans fear that a “voucher” program will ultimately harm the public school system. When push came to shove, Governor Abbott held public school funding hostage as leverage to get “vouchers” passed by those opposed to it. Still, the Texas House refused to budge. No vouchers, no increased public-school funding.

Governor Abbott then turned his attention to the Republican primary elections. He targeted, with his own campaign funds, many of the Texas House Republicans who voted against his “voucher” bill. Yes, that’s right. The governor tried to remove fellow Republicans, all of whom share his conservative values, who defied him on “vouchers.” Lots of campaign contributions were given to pro-voucher Republicans who ran against the incumbents in the Republican primary in March. Many of the incumbents who stood up for public schools lost their race and will now be replaced by pro-voucher Republicans. Many others went to run-off elections taking place in May. We will soon “know” with a fair amount of certainty whether Governor Abbott has enough votes in the Texas House to pass “vouchers” in the 2025 regular session.

Now, let’s tie this recent political history back to Cy-Fair ISD’s budget cuts. First, it is undeniable that a significant source of Cy-Fair ISD’s budget crisis is Governor Abbott’s stubbornness over “vouchers.” There was no reason why public-school funding couldn’t have been increased separate from a bill on “vouchers.” The Governor insisted on tying them together. Second, Governor Abbott has no incentive to call a 30-day special session right now to help Cy-Fair ISD or any other district. He is literally waiting until he has the votes to pass his “voucher” bill. So, while we can understandably be frustrated with Governor Abbott as a source of the problem, he is not part of the solution in the short-term.

Strategic Solutions

As Trustee Julie Hinaman explained at the April 22 Special Board Meeting, the most immediate source of financial relief available to Cy-Fair ISD is roughly $30 million that the Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath can release to us. The money is part of a larger sum of state funding that Cy-Fair ISD doesn’t receive due to the local option homestead exemption (LOHE). Again, for me, the details of why the money is withheld are not important. What matters is that there is money the district could receive now, and Cy-Fair residents need to demand that Morath do what he can to immediately help the state’s third-largest district. As Dr. Killian stated, he and the Board of Trustees are actively communicating with the district’s Texas House members like Sam Harless, Tom Oliverson, and Jon Rosenthal to impress upon Commissioner Morath the need for those funds. I share the frustrations and accusations of others that Dr. Killian seems too committed to shielding Governor Abbott from blame, but as long as he is lobbying Mike Morath for that $30 million, he is advocating on behalf of the district.

Our state representatives are key allies right now. Sam Harless is my state representative and he communicated to me that he is hopeful they will secure some additional funding from Commissioner Morath. Likewise, Tom Oliverson has communicated with his constituents that he is actively working on the issue too. Jon Rosenthal, one of the staunchest public education lawmakers in the Texas House, is also supporting these efforts. The point for you, the reader, is this: regardless of who your state representative is and whether you like them, they are trying to help get money for the district.

The most effective thing you can do is email them and call their office to say thank you and to keep the pressure up. If you voted for them and share their party label, then absolutely include that information. They are politicians. Yes, they serve all their constituents, but feedback from voters within their own party will arguably make more of an impact than what can easily be dismissed as “complaints” from people they likely see as partisan critics. Right now, the most productive thing to do isn’t to demonize one political party or talk about the next election, it is to pressure whoever is in office today to help the district. You can do this…go send an email!

Dr. Killian is arguably in the position of friend and foe. He is a friend to the degree that he uses his platform to lobby lawmakers for financial relief. He is a foe to the degree that he implements the budget cuts. So far, as seen in the public comments at the May 2 Work Session, many residents feel that he is not handling the budget cuts with transparency, honesty, or compassion. The community learned about the recommendations from the Budget Reduction Advisory Committee (BRAC) at the April 22 Special Board Meeting, then learned about actions being taken by Dr. Killian that seem way out of step with those recommendations. In truth, it is his prerogative to make cuts where he thinks best but the community is understandably upset by the prospect of losing half the district’s librarians. Dr. Killian cannot avoid making painful cuts. He was dealt a hand of cards, and as a Superintendent this stuff comes with the territory. He signed up for this and it’s not the first time he has had to make difficult decisions. Cy-Fair residents are justified in expressing frustration and even anger over who and what is being cut and especially the manner in which the cuts are happening. The criticism is warranted, and the criticism should continue.

The Unavoidable Politics

Public education is inherently political, but doing what’s best for students doesn’t have to be partisan. Yes, we have witnessed intense divisions between Republicans and Democrats over what is being taught and how it is being taught. Those differences in opinion are to be expected. Republicans and Democrats don’t need to be divided, and often aren’t, over the need to adequately fund public schools. However, the truth of the situation, as explained earlier, is there are currently many Republicans who can justifiably be criticized as obstacles to or outright opponents of quality public education. One way to interpret the attacks on what public schools teach is to view them as attempts to discredit and undermine trust in public schools to increase support for “vouchers.” For example, narratives about woke “agendas” being pushed function as a rationale for why parents must have access to public tax dollars to enroll their child in a private school. Whether the accusation is true doesn’t matter to those making it. Their motivation is to create the perception that something nefarious is going on in public schools so parents should have more “options” at the taxpayers’ expense.

Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick routinely push the narrative that some harmful “woke” agenda is being imposed on Texas students. In this sense, they are not allies of public education but hostile enemies. You the reader can decide for yourself whether you believe your local public schools are part of some “progressive plot.” If you have confidence in your local public schools, then you must then figure out what you think about the way state leaders are demonizing them. If you disagree with what they’re saying, then tell them! Saying that Greg Abbott is undermining Texas public schools doesn’t have to be received by you as an argument for voting against him, renouncing the Republican Party, or voting for Democrats. It is an argument for you to decide whether you agree with him. If you don’t, especially if you’re a Republican who voted for him, then you should express your frustration.

When it comes to public education, the goal is not political power but policy. This means that the goal, from a bird’s eye view, is not to use education to convince people which party to vote for. The goal is to convince both parties, whoever is in power, to support the policy that you want. In other words, if it is true that too many Republicans are not supporting public schools, then the solution can be pressuring those Republicans to change their minds (or, yes, replacing them with Democrats!). Do you see my point? As a Democrat myself, when it comes to public education I don’t need more Democrats in power. I just need Republicans who support public education! The people best positioned to pressure Republican lawmakers to support public schools are Republican voters. So, if you’re a proud Republican who supports public education, then great! Use your voice and power to call out your party’s state leader. Tell him to adequately fund Texas public schools in the next regular session in Spring 2025 regardless of whether the Texas legislature passes a “voucher” bill.

In the November 2024 election, make strategic choices about who to support for Texas Senate and Texas House. Many lawmakers and candidates have clear records on where they stand with public education funding, vouchers, and other education issues. If public education is something you’re passionate about, then you may consider voting for someone from the other party who you think will be a more reliable ally for public schools. Alternatively, you can apply consistent pressure on your lawmaker to make sure they support public schools knowing that they have as much or more pressure coming from billionaire donors to support “vouchers.” Money talks, but so do voters. Money from special interests talks louder when voters are disengaged and apathetic. It’s easier to vote against your constituents priorities if you’re not hearing from them. Regardless of which party you vote for, communicate with your elected official relentlessly during the 2025 regular session for an increase in the basic allotment and a long-term solution to the funding deficit caused by Cy-Fair ISD’s LOHE.

Who are Cy-Fair ISD’s state lawmakers? In the Texas House, Cy-Fair residents are represented by Tom Oliverson (R, 130), Mike Schofield (R, 132), Jon Rosenthal (D, 135), Sam Harless (R, 126), and Penny Morales Shaw (D, 148), Lacey Hull (R, 138), while in the Texas Senate there is Paul Bettancourt (R, 7) and Lois Kolkhorst (R, 18). Note: Texas House District 139 and Texas Senate District 15 also represent portions of Cy-Fair, but both seats are in flux. But look at how many potential allies Cy-Fair ISD has! Contact these people. Insist that they support Cy-Fair ISD. If they seem like unreliable allies, then consider voting for someone running against them.

There is a lot of commentary I could make about certain lawmakers, or school board trustees, but what you the reader need to know is that you have it within your power to contact your elected officials and demand that they fund public education. Find out who represents you and do some research on them. As the CFISD Parents for Librarians group has said, it is possible for the community to come together and minimize the damage we’re facing. If we stay focused, organized, and at least a little bit united, maybe we can even solve the underlying problems.