Texas House expected to approve ed. funding overhaul

Texas House expected to approve ed. funding overhaul

(Texas) Districts may see a $1.6 billion boost in education spending in 2017-18, under a bill that will likely face a full vote in the Texas House of Representatives later this week.

As proposed, the measure would provide all schools with an increase of about $200 per student in the base amount of funding they get from the state each year. A big part of that additional money will come as the result of new transportation funding which, at $125 per student, is predicted to especially benefit charters.

“We are putting more resources in the classroom and making needed reforms to our school finance formulas,” said by Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, author of the funding bill, in a statement. “By increasing state funding for schools, we can improve instruction and reduce the need for higher property taxes. This bill would keep more local tax dollars in local public schools.”

HB 21 was drafted in response to a Texas Supreme Court decision last year which upheld the state’s funding formula as constitutional, but the judges said it was in need of major reform. The lawsuit–which was filed in 2011 and became the longest legal battle over school finance in state history–was brought against the state after the Legislature cut $5.4 billion in public education funding from the state budget while schools were already struggling to implement new academic standards.

In addition to increasing per-pupil funding, Huberty’s bill provides schools with weighted funding for students with dyslexia, and reduces the amount of money that local taxpayers in wealthier areas would pay in Recapture by $163 million in 2018 and $192 million in 2019. Recapture, also known as the Robin Hood plan, distributes additional funds generated in from property taxes in property-wealthy districts to surrounding property-poor districts.

The bill also provides for a two-year hardship grant to help districts affected by the expiration of Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction program in September of this year. The program was created in 2006 when he Legislature reduced property tax rates by one-third, and guaranteed that school districts would have the ability to maintain at least the same level of per-student funding for weighted average daily attendance during the 2005-06 school year.

Opponents of HB 21 have expressed concerns that letting Aid for Tax Reduction the program expire would hurt rural schools in the state that rely heavily on the funding. During an education committee hearing on the bill, Mike Motheral, executive director of the Texas Small Rural School Finance Coalition, said 14 of the districts he represents could lose up as much as 53 percent of their state revenue with the end of the state aid program. Overall, approximately 150 districts are awarded funding through the program.

Despite the opposition, the bill has received support from House leadership.

“Our school finance system needs a lot of work, and Chairman Huberty’s bill is a very good start,” House Speaker Joe Straus said in a statement. “We have the time and the resources to improve public education this year.”

Although HB 21 appears likely to pass out of the House, it is unclear whether the bill will make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. A political rift between Abbott, Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick—who controls the state Senate—continues to make compromise problematic.

Currently, both Abbot’s budget and the one prepared in the state Senate call for $213 billion in spending and cuts of about 8 percent; the House plan calls for $221 billion in spending and just a 5.6 percent reduction.

But the House plan also comes closer to meeting Abbott’s proposal of allocating about $240 million to pre-kindergarten classes over the next two years. While the House version only offers about $117 million to the program –more than $120 million less than what the governor was hoping for– the Senate plan allocates just $75 million to the program.