WEEK IN REVIEW
SENATE ROLLS OUT SCHOOL FINANCE REFORM PLAN
(AUSTIN) — Members of the Senate Education Committee opened hearings Thursday on their plan to reform the way the state pays for public education while providing property tax relief and a pay raise to all Texas teachers. Committee chair and Friendswood Senator Larry Taylor says the bill gets rid of outdated weights and allotments and moves to a model aimed at serving the modern student body. That means getting more resources to districts with high populations of economically disadvantaged students, which Taylor says is both the fastest growing demographic in Texas, as well as the largest, around 60 percent of all pupils. "Unfortunately, historically, that's also been our least educated," said Taylor. "So obviously that paradigm cannot continue on that path or we will not be the Texas in the very near future that we are today."
The bill would raise the basic allotment, the fundamental variable in determining how much money a district is entitled to, by $780, to a new total of $5880. Districts would get more money based not only on how many low-income students they educate, but also the density of economically disadvantaged families in the community served by a district. It would direct more money to early education, including funding for full-day quality pre-K programs, in order to meet critical 3rd grade reading standards. High schools would see a funding increase to improve post-secondary readiness for high school graduates, working to ensure they are fully qualified to enter college, the workforce or the military. There's additional money for students with dyslexia and those still learning English, among a number of other funding enhancements.
The bill includes a $5000 annual pay raise for teachers, but also an optional teacher effectiveness pay scale that would allow participating districts to pay their best teachers, or those willing to work on the most challenging campuses, more money.
For property tax relief, the bill would raise the homestead exemption and compress local school property tax rates by eight cents per dollar in the first year and 15 cents in the second. It would pay for this with a one percent increase in the state sales tax, though lawmakers are also considering a variety of other revenue sources. Additionally, voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment authorizing the sales tax hike for the purposes of property tax reductions.
Though there's about a month left in the session, Taylor told members that they are going to work judiciously through the process in order to hear input from stakeholders. "This is not going to be a rushed project," he said. "We’re going to have time to be thoughtful on this and take input from our members and others." He said he intends to bring up the bill for a committee vote late next week at the earliest.
Also this week, legislators began negotiations between the House and Senate over each chamber's budget proposal. Five Senators, led by Finance chair and Flower Mound Senator Jane Nelson, will work with five representatives to reach a consensus proposal. The two versions before the conference committee are fairly close, only about $400 million apart on state revenue spending and $3.2 billion, out of a total of about $250 billion, in all funds. The chambers are in agreement on $9 billion to spend on property tax relief and education finance reform. "This process is made easier by the fact that both chambers are prioritizing three key issues, that's certainly property tax relief, education reform and teacher salary," said Nelson. "The good news is that both chambers have demonstrated their commitment to our top priorities." Still, a number of key differences, such as state spending on health and human services, will have to be resolved before a final version can be presented in each chamber before session ends.
The Senate will reconvene in regular session Monday, April 29 at 11 a.m.