Texas school finance reform bill passes House

Austin
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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas House approved a $9 billion overhaul of the public school finance system on Wednesday with a 148-1 vote. The bill now heads to the Texas Senate for consideration.

“Today’s a great day for Texas children,” House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said. “It’s a great day for their parents. It’s a great day for the teachers who educate them. It’s a great day for everyone in education. It’s a great day for the parents who pay those taxes.”

The House version would increase districts’ per-student money and pay down local property taxes. The bill devotes $2.7 billion toward property tax reduction, which lowers school district property tax rates by an average of 5.5 percent nationwide.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, added an amendment to the bill related to salary increases for teachers and full-time staff. With Turner’s amendment, any time the basic allotment is increased — whether in HB 3 or in any future legislative session — 25 percent of the increase must be specifically dedicated and set aside for pay raises. His amendment received unanimous bipartisan support and will guarantee $2.4 billion for pay raises for every full-time teacher and full-time support staff member in the state. 

Turner said:

“There’s been a lot of talk this session about raising teacher pay and a lot of disagreement on the best way to do it. This amendment strikes the perfect balance by giving a uniform raise to teachers and support staff — making pay increases sustainable beyond the next two-year budget cycle, and ensuring that local districts have flexibility on how to use these additional funds for salaries.”

Based on the numbers in HB 3 and in the two-year state budget bill, the amendment currently guarantees that $2.4 billion will go toward pay raises for every full-time teacher and support staff in the state. Of that, 75 percent must be offered equally to all employees in the district. The remaining 25 percent can then be used at the discretion of the district, provided it is for employee pay.

“This is a sustainable way of providing increased compensation to our teachers and other employees,” he said on the House floor.

The Senate plan, however, would give $5,000 a year in pay raises directly to teachers and librarians. Major teacher organizations favor the Senate plan. However, several House lawmakers and some educator groups remain optimistic that both chambers can reach an agreement and get something passed into law. 

“We’ve seen some indication that they agree on a good portion of it – but once it gets over there – hopefully they will come on board with us and agree that it is truly the Texas plan for public education,” Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, said.

“That’s going to be a starting point for the two chambers to look at,” Monty Exter with the Association of Texas Professional Educators said. “Then it simply becomes an issue of trying to ensure that there are enough dollars going into the system which can guarantee pay raises, which are very needed for our state’s teachers, in addition to being able to reform the finance system which is desperately needed as well.”

Speaker Bonnen stressed the importance of bipartisanship in working on school reform, highlighting lawmakers from both parties for their additions to the bill. Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, filed an amendment to increase the weight for special education funding. 

“We know that schools are paying more than we are giving them to educate our special education students,” Gonzalez said. 

He also highlighted the knowledge of several lawmakers with backgrounds in public education that they brought with them when helping craft the school finance reform package.

“I was thinking about the students I used to teach back in San Antonio and I hope today will make them proud,” Rep. James Talarico, D-Round Rock, said.

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee praised the work of his colleagues on getting this bill passed.

“The intent of this is to make this long-lasting,” Huberty said. “This is intended to fix the problem for a very long time.”

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