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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke July 23, 2010

Stephen Colbert says that Texas can't afford new science textbooks because of an $18 billion budget shortfall

Rocker Alice Cooper famously sang "school's out for summer," and on the July 6 episode of The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert saluted the "noted educator," but amended the lyric. "Depending on budget cuts, it could be out forever," he said.

We won't take him too literally, since he also said that the Texas State Board of Education revised the state's social studies curriculum standards "so the books would no longer say that Sen. (Joseph) McCarthy was engaged in a witch hunt, but, instead, was the star of Bewitched."

Still, another claim caught our ear: "It turns out that Texas has an $18 billion budget shortfall and can't afford its new science textbooks," he said, as a May 18 Austin American-Statesman article flashed on the screen.

Since Colbert has his "I's on Edjukashun," a segment on his show about education news nationwide, we wondered whether he got that write. Er, right.

When we contacted Colbert to elaborate, a spokeswoman told us that the show was on vacation until July 26, so we forged ahead.

First, let's look at the budget shortfall.

In a May 11 meeting of the House Appropriations committee, Wayne Pulver, assistant director of the Legislative Budget Board, told legislators the reasons the state is facing a budget gap. The board, which prepares a draft of the budget bill for legislators each session, also crunches the numbers that inform legislative spending decisions.

At the hearing, Pulver confirmed that lawmakers will start the next legislative session with a budget gap because of funds that will no longer be available from sizeable sources that helped balance the 2010-11 budget: $6.4 billion in federal stimulus money and $5.6 billion in one-time state funds.

Those figures jibe with an analysis the budget board produced in March for the committee. John O'Brien, the board's executive director, pegged the budget gap at $11 billion, but cautioned that his figure assumed no growth in state spending or revenue.

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At the May hearing, Pulver detailed factors expected to increase the shortfall, including that revenue could fail to meet projections and that spending may increase to accommodate growth in demand for programs like Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

When committee chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, asked whether "that could add up to between $15 and $18 billion," Pulver called the range "reasonable."

Of course, projections are uncertain. In April, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told the San Antonio-Express News in April that the budget gap couldn't yet be defined "because you don't know — when you say shortfall, you imply some sort of mandatory spending level and some sort of predetermined revenue level, neither of which we have. There's no shortfall if you don't spend it. And we don't know yet what our revenue projections are."

How about them textbooks?

On May 21, the education board voted to postpone issuing textbook Proclamation 2012, which calls for the purchase of new science textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the Texas Education Agency. The science books were estimated to cost $347 million, in addition to $888 million necessary to cover already-approved English materials, continuing contracts and freight.

"The state's looming budget deficit, estimated to be $18 billion in the next biennium," pushed the board's decision, according to TEA, and members instead decided to update the current textbooks with supplemental online material that covers the new science curriculum standards the board approved last year for science classes in fifth through eighth grade, plus biology, chemistry, physics and integrated physics and chemistry.

What did we learn?

Colbert cherry-picked the higher figure of the budget board's latest shortfall projection — $18 billion — but so did the education agency in explaining the education board's decision to delay buying new science textbooks.

We rate his statement as Mostly True.

Our Sources

The Colbert Report, I's on Edjukashun, July 6, 2010

Austin American-Statesman, New science textbooks face budget snag: State Board of Education will decide whether to proceed with $1.4 billion plan or delay books, May 15, 2010

Austin American-Statesman, Straus vows no new taxes to close budget gap, May 11, 2010

PolitiFact Texas, Perry says $18 billion budget gap estimate is plucked from air, June 9, 2010

Texas Education Agency, News release: SBOE gives final okay to social studies standards, tweaks graduation requirements, May 21, 2010

E-mail interview with Debbie Ratcliffe, communications director, Texas Education Agency, July 20, 2010

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Stephen Colbert says that Texas can't afford new science textbooks because of an $18 billion budget shortfall

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