AUSTIN -- With virtually no time to spare, legislative leaders agreed Friday on a school finance plan that would distribute reduced education funding to Texas school districts over the next two years.
The package is tied to a must-pass revenue bill that lawmakers will consider over the weekend in the wind-down toward Monday's adjournment.
Facing lawmakers today is a two-year budget containing $15 billion in cuts to services including a $4 billion cut to education funds.
The exact level of funding to the nearly 20 school districts in Tarrant County won't be completely clear until after lawmakers distribute a district-by-district breakdown.
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But school officials throughout North Texas and elsewhere have been bracing for multimillion-dollar revenue hits since the Legislature began budget deliberations in January.
Resolution on a school finance package was considered essential to avoiding a blow-up over the budget and forcing lawmakers into a midsummer special session.
But even with the school finance breakthrough, key lawmakers warned of other end-of-session stumbling blocks that could bring lawmakers back to Austin.
Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas and chairman of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, said the death of legislation to reform a windstorm insurance fund could prompt Gov. Rick Perry to call a special session on that issue.
Perry joined House and Senate negotiators in Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's office behind the Senate chamber in final discussions over school finance. As lawmakers closed in on a deal, Perry indicated that he was prepared to support the emerging package but wouldn't fully commit until the proposal lands on his desk.
"From 35,000 feet, it looks like one we could work with," Perry told reporters.
He also sought to wave off chatter about a special session. "I don't see any reason why we need to be in a special session, but again, that's always up to the call of the governor."
Friday was widely considered the drop-dead point for an accord on school finance.
After days of back-and-forth discussions between the chambers, Dewhurst and other principal negotiators emerged late Friday to announce the agreement.
The compromise will be incorporated into the nontax revenue measure, which faces a vote by the House and Senate on Sunday.
Budget votes today
The $172.3 billion budget that goes before lawmakers today calls for $4 billion in education cuts during 2012-13, but the school finance package lays out the formulas for channeling funding to the more than 1,000 school districts.
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth and a negotiator, called the agreement the "first major school finance restructuring that wasn't under a court order."
The next challenge will be selling the pact to members in both chambers after they review the depth of cuts to individual districts back home.
Hank Johnson, chief financial officer for the Fort Worth school district, said that based on information before the agreement was finalized, the 80,000-student district, with a budget of about $600 million, could lose $32 million to $33 million in 2012 and $17 million to $20 million in 2013.
Those calculations could change after lawmakers release official district-by-district breakdowns.
Karen Rue, superintendent of the Northwest school district, said it is braced for a reduction of 6 to 8 percent, or $8 million to $10.8 million.
"It's a very difficult task to get something that works for all districts across the state," she said.
Both Johnson and Rue, while acknowledging that the budget cuts would be painful, noted that the $4 billion reduction compares favorably to earlier proposed cuts of nearly $10 billion.
"That's a whole lot better than what we were expecting," Johnson said. "I'm really disappointed that we have to have that kind of cut to public education, but I'm glad it's no worse than it is."
Rue said, "I believe this compromise is going to give the state the reductions it needs to balance the budget and not cripple school districts at the same time."
Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said the compromise represents "a hybrid, hybrid" version of competing plans pushed by her and her counterpart in the House.
House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, proposed an across-the-board 6 percent reduction, while Shapiro pushed a more comprehensive plan that would have imposed deeper reductions on wealthier districts.
The compromise would implement a version of Eissler's plan in the first year of the biennium and Shapiro's in the second. It also calls for an interim study before the next legislative session to consider a long-term overhaul of school finance.
Staff writer Eva-Marie Ayala contributed to this report.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief. 512-476-4294