The Senate Education Committee and the overlapping Senate Finance workgroup on school finance held a four-hour hearing Friday to consider a wide spectrum of views on fixes needed in what all agree is a school-funding distribution system in serious need of renovation. Senate Education chair Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, had a message for all the witnesses, preemptively declaring that the Senate will not consider funding increases for public schools as part of its version of finance reform. Most of the expert witnesses who testified had a message, too: It will take more money to do an adequate job of funding the state’s share of the cost of public education, whatever mechanism is devised for better distribution of the money.
The expert witnesses also showed near-unanimity on another key point: Much of the funding needed is already being raised by increased revenue from local property taxes due to rising property values, but the Senate’s proposed state budget quietly uses that money in place of state revenue, which is thereby freed up for other state purposes. By some estimates cited today the amount of state funding being replaced with local property taxes exceeds three billion dollars. If the state kept its share of school funding constant instead of shrinking it, those increased local tax collections would boost total resources for our public schools significantly—which is surely what local taxpayers expect when they see their school taxes go up.
You can anticipate hearing more on this theme from Texas AFT and the entire education community throughout the 2017 session. It’s a point likely to get a better reception in the Texas House, which has its own first draft of the state budget that would put significantly more into public education than the Senate proposes.