Last week, New Braunfels ISD trustees committed to spend $4.3 million to fund 70.5 full-time positions in perpetuity. While the district’s staffing decision might seem unimportant at first, it actually hints at a large and growing problem becoming increasingly common in local budget matters.

See, 26 of the 70.5 full-time positions were originally funded through pandemic aid provided to Texas public schools, more formally known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. It has always been understood that ESSER monies were temporary in nature. That is, those monies would eventually expire, leaving recipient governments without federal funds to continue providing for any pandemic-related programs and people. But, of course, some governments are refusing to discontinue all that spending, as evidenced by NBISD.

Here’s more from a recent news article:

“At the Monday, April 8, board meeting, the New Braunfels Independent School District Board of Trustees approved $4.3 million in funding for 70.5 full-time equivalents…The approval helps the district meet the needs of a growing special education population and move positions that were previously funded through [ESSER] to the General Funds.” [emphasis mine]

It has long been a concern that Texas local governments—and school districts in particular—would turn temporary programs and positions into permanent fixtures using locally-sourced revenues to make it happen. In so doing, these entities, it was feared, would drive up the cost of government and further expand their respective institutions’ reach far beyond its pre-pandemic setting. And that seems to be on display here in NBISD.

The situation today brings to mind an old, astute quote from The Gipper. In his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech, President Reagan cleverly joked that: “Governments’ programs, once launched, never disappear…a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” That remark is as true then as it is today.

Now more than ever, Texans need their local elected officials to be prudent with public money and seek out opportunities to reduce the cost of government. Further, they need their elected officials to resist the temptation to grow government by turning one-time expenses into recurring expenditures.

It is common knowledge that pandemic aid was limited in duration and intended for emergency purposes. It was not supposed to serve as a catalyst to grow Texas government. Local governments, like NBISD, should remember that and recommit themselves to fiscal discipline and taxpayer protection.