The Senate Education Committee laid out its version of the education finance reform bill today as Committee Substitute to House Bill 2 (CSHB 2). This version of the Senate plan makes a number of changes to the original plan laid out during the first week of session in Senate Bill 2. Chief among these is a phasing-in strategy for most of the bill's key provisions, rather than an immediate implementation.
CSHB 2 still holds true to the goals of the original Senate plan. It still seeks to reduce property taxes by one-third, but will implement the reduction over a period of three years. This would bring the total property tax burden to $1.30 per $100 for 2006, and $1.10 per $100 for 2007, with an additional reduction of 10 cents to come in 2008 or 2009. In an effort to satisfy districts who worry that the state property tax compromises local control, the rate includes a 25 cent local fund assignment for local districts.
The new plan also allocates money for a higher teacher pay increase than originally drafted. CSHB 2 would grant a $2000 across the board pay raise for teachers in 2006. If the state property tax was passed by voters, then teachers could expect an additional $1,500 in 2007.
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst said the provisions in CSHB 2 must be implemented over time rather than all at once because of budgetary limitations. He still believes that the Senate plan is an effective tool for increasing the standard of education in Texas. "It's a good bill; it's a permanent bill. It has a lasting effect," said Dewhurst. "It provides broad reform; it raises standards. Every time we raise standards in education in Texas, our youngsters and teachers jump over that bar."
Senator Florence Shapiro, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and is sponsoring CSHB 2, said she believes this bill makes reforms with an eye toward the future. "I think what this bill does is it gives us a long-term proposal, rather than just a short-term fix." The Committee will continue to refine the bill this week, and will likely vote the bill out late this week or early next week.
Senator John Whitmire of Houston held a press conference today to highlight a bill he says will curb the rash of vehicle burglary in the state. In 1993, the Legislature addressed the growing number of car thefts by creating the Automobile Theft Authority, which was created to increase stings, undercover operations, and surveillance of suspected car theft rings. The result was a 50-percent drop in the number of car thefts since that time. Whitmire wants to take a similar approach to the problem of car burglaries. SB 1874 would create and fund an office to encourage increased tactics to combat car burglary from the law enforcement side. "I would like to suggest that SB 1874 takes a very aggressive approach from the law enforcement component," said Whitmire. All 31 Senators have signed on as sponsors of this bill, so its passage is all but assured. SB 1874 will likely get a hearing in Whitmire's Criminal Justice Committee later this week.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, April 26th, at 8 a.m. for consideration of the Local and Uncontested Calendar, and will convene in regular session tomorrow at 11 a.m.