The Texas Legislature now has two plans for fixing public schools: one in the House and one in Senate. But “fixing” may be an ambitious way to describe what these plans could do, especially given all the problems the education system faces: failing schools, problems with standardized testing, inequitable funding for school districts and a lack of special needs educators, just to name a few.
But KUT Austin’s education reporter Claire McInerny says lawmakers have put forward some ideas that could make a difference. The main thing, she says, is the House wants to allocate $9 billion to the public school system.
“They wanna increase how much money a school gets per kid by almost a thousand dollars,” McInerny says.
She says House lawmakers also want to reduce the so-called recapture fund, also known as the Robin Hood system, in which school districts that generate more money from property taxes share some of that money with poorer districts.
“They are going to do a 4 cent across-the-board property tax reduction,” McInerny says. “So, people could see a lower property tax bill.
She says this initiative came out of a state commission that determined that the recapture system wasn’t a sustainable way to fund poorer school districts.
“[The commission] said we can’t rely this much on a few communities to fund the whole state,” McInerny says.
She says that’s a huge change in how the House approaches education funding, and one for which House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty has been pushing.
“[He’s] been really advocating for this for 10 years,” McInerny says. “He feels like this is a long-term solution.”
She says the plan has bipartisan support and will have “no trouble” getting through the House. But that won’t necessarily be the case in the Senate.
McInerny says the House’s $9 billion plan isn’t just about reducing recaptured funds. The money would also go toward new initiatives like paying for low-income 3- and 4-year-olds to go to preschool.
“There’s a lot of programs in this bill,” McInerny says. “It’s a more holistic approach.”
The Senate just passed its own school finance bill that’s mainly an increase to teacher salaries.
“They want to add $5,000 to the salaries of all teachers and librarians,” McInerny says.
But she says House Speaker Dennis Bonnen criticized that plan as too simplistic.
“He’s like, ‘We have a plan. You guys are just throwing $5,000 at a salary,'” McInerny says.
For now, McInerny says she’s watching to see what the Senate will do next, as it gets ready to consider the House bill.
She says it’s likely that the legislature will end up passing a complete school finance bill by the end of the session. That’s because recapture has become a thorny issue for so many Texans.
“So many people are paying into recapture right now and it’s hurting their local schools,” McInerny says. “I think lawmakers from all different parts of the state and all different backgrounds are hearing from their constituents, ‘This is what we care about. We don’t care about anything else.'”
She says the midterm elections reflected that, with competitive races for historically safe House and Senate seats.
“Some people had close margins,” McInerny says. “I think it kind of was the wake-up call to school finance that they needed.”
And she says people like Huberty, who’s been working on the issue for a long time, are poised to push their ideas forward.
Written by Caroline Covington.