Senate continues deliberations on House Bill 1
The Senate met today, May 11, as a Committee of the Whole to hear more testimony regarding the state of schools in Texas. Several founders and executives of charter schools testified before the committee as to the need for more money for facilities. Charter schools are public schools founded by individuals or organizations that operate on a contract from the state. Historically, these schools serve at-risk students in low-income areas. These schools are generally given a five-year initial charter, with a renewal every ten years. The state started this program in 1995, and now there are more than 200 of these schools, with fifteen schools receiving an "Exemplary" rating from the Texas Education Association. The panel expressed to the committee the grave need for more facility funding. "We need money to reach those children who have been historically left behind," said Leroy McClure, Superintendent of the Focus Learning Academy in Dallas, Texas. Tom Torkelson, Executive Director and founder of IDEA Academy in Donna, Texas said, "Schools who do what the state asked and consistently outperformed the state criteria with a historically underperforming population of students deserve more funding for facilities."
The Committee of the Whole also heard testimony relating to facility funding for state public schools. According to panelists, school facilities are primarily funded through the issuing of bonds. These bonds are guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund, which can guarantee up to 33 billion dollars for school debts. By having this guarantee, schools can issue bonds with a AAA credit rating, saving money on interest charges. As it stands today, the PSF backs more than 24 billion dollars in facility debt. Bruce Laboon, of the law firm Locke, Liddell & Sapp, warned lawmakers that the PSF will reach its $33 billion cap in 18 to 24 months. He asked senators to find a way to extend this limit.
Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, Senate sponsor of HB1, addressed the Senate on some further changes that have been made to the bill. The proposed new bill will increase funding to public education by 750 million dollars, while reducing property taxes to $1 per $100 dollar valuation. The bill would also update the cost of education index, which reconciles differences between expenses in different districts due to geographic reasons.
The Senate will reconvene as a Committee of the Whole, Wednesday, May 12th at 10 a.m. to hear public testimony related to House Bill 1.