AUSTIN — The Texas House of Representatives on April 19 approved school finance legislation that would reduce the amount of local tax dollars that property-rich school districts are required to share with other school districts under the so-called “Robin Hood” process.
House Bill 21 by House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty, R-Houston, passed on a vote of 134-16. It would increase per-student state funding for most school districts and charter schools and would adjust formulas used to calculate how much funding the state sends to school districts.
House Speaker Joe Straus, who designated school finance reform a top priority for lawmakers to address in the 85th session of the Texas Legislature, lauded the passage of HB 21. “Texas public schools are doing a good job and House Bill 21 will make them even better,” Straus said. “This bill puts needed resources into Texas classrooms. It begins to bring long-overdue improvements to our school finance formulas. And it reduces the impact of Robin Hood by keeping more local dollars in local schools.
“Parents and taxpayers know that our school finance system needs reform. House Bill 21 begins to implement those reforms,” added Straus. “If this type of legislation does not become law, property taxes will increase and more school districts will send their local dollars to other parts of the state. We cannot and should not continue to put more and more of the burden on property taxes. Fully reforming our school finance system may take several years and much more work but now is the right time to start.”
Senate tackles school finance
Meanwhile, on April 19, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on SB 2145, legislation that would change the way the funding of public education is calculated.
Written by the committee’s chair, Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, SB 2145 would reduce the current, multi-layered formula to what he referred to as “a single line.”
Taylor said his bill would make school funding “simpler, easier to understand and more equitable” by repealing all or part of 49 separate sections of the Education Code and put projected savings from efficiencies back into the system.
As redesigned by Taylor, five instructional allotments would be added together: the regular program allotment based on the basic allotment determined at the state level and allotments for special education, career and technology, compensatory education and bilingual education. The sum multiplied by the local school property tax rate, plus a transportation cost allotment, is how much a district would get every year, according to the Senate News Service.
Taylor said his bill “establishes a fresh start for school finance by removing inefficiencies and creating a funding system based on actual costs and that takes taxpayer effort into consideration.” His formula is designed to take into account local tax effort, he said, such that districts could hold elections to increase local property taxes up to the current cap of $1.17 and would receive more money commensurate with each penny increase.
Budget to be hashed out
Speaker Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last week appointed members to a conference committee whose job it will be to reconcile differences in House version and the Senate version of Senate Bill 1, the state budget for 2018 and 2019.
House members named to serve on the 10-member committee are: John Zerwas, R-Richmond; Sarah Davis, R-Houston; Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock; Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin; and Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya. Senate members include: Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; and Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.
Jobless rate increases
The Texas Workforce Commission on April 21 reported that the Lone Star State’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 5.0 percent during the month of March, up slightly from 4.9 percent in February.
Despite the increase in the unemployment rate, the Texas job total showed continued health in March with the addition of 9,500 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs.
The Texas Workforce Commission also reported that the Amarillo Metropolitan Statistical Area recorded the month’s lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 3.5 percent, followed by a rate of 3.6 percent achieved by the College Station-Bryan and Austin-Round Rock MSAs. The Lubbock and Midland MSAs each registered a rate of 4.0 percent for March.