Texas Senate’s Last-Minute School Funding Bill Is Short On Financial Details

“It’s hard to say how you feel about a proposal when you don’t know how much money it includes.”

By Jill AmentMarch 11, 2019 11:26 am,

On Friday, a Texas senator introduced a much-anticipated school finance bill. Aliyya Swaby, public education reporter for the Texas Tribune, says Friendswood Republican Sen. Larry Taylor filed the bill just before the deadline, and says the bill is a “first draft” compared to the House’s education bill.

“It has a lot of blanks where there should be numbers on what they want to do for property tax reform and how much more they wanna give low-income kids,” Swaby says. “There are a lot of things they’ll end up needing to fill in, but it seems like they wanted to get in a version, at least, that they can work from throughout the rest of the session.”

She says one major difference between school finance bills in the Senate and House is teacher pay. Swaby says both are offering so-called merit pay for districts that want to give more money to teachers who earn high ratings. But the Senate’s bill would also give “across-the-board” raises to all full-time teachers and librarians. Swaby says the House does not have that provision in its bill.

The Senate bill also has an incentive program for which school districts can get additional money for improvements in third-grade reading performance. The House bill doesn’t have any such provisions.

“That is also a main difference between the two proposals,” Swaby says.

She says it’s too early to tell how lawmakers feel about either chamber’s proposal. That’s because both plans may change, she says. Also, she says the Senate’s plan is hard to gauge because it doesn’t include how much the plan would cost.

“It’s hard to say how you feel about a proposal when you don’t know how much money it includes,” Swaby says.

The House plan, she says, proposes to pay for public education through about $6 billion in state funds and about $3 billion from property taxes. There isn’t such information in the Senate plan.

“Until you see the actual numbers on the Senate side, it’ll be pretty hard to compare it,” Swaby says.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the head of the Texas Senate, has been saying since the beginning of the legislative session that school finance and property taxes were his top priorities, but the Senate has been slower to come up with its proposals. Swaby says the $5,000 teacher pay raise has been Patrick’s good-faith gesture that he’s serious about school finance.

“The lieutenant governor is obviously tied to those raises, and it’s something that he’s been talking about throughout his campaign,” Swaby says. “So it’s really tied to his political future.”

Written by Caroline Covington.