Legislative Update: Public School Funding, Teacher Pay Enter the Property Tax Special Session

News from the 88th Legislative Session

As we reported last week, the second special session on property tax relief began Tuesday, June 27, with agenda items slightly modified from its predecessor. 

In the special session that is currently underway, Gov. Greg Abbott has called for the following legislation to be passed by the Texas Legislature and sent to his desk:

  1. Eliminating a Property Tax in Texas: Legislation to put Texas on a pathway to eliminate school district maintenance and operations property taxes.
  2. Lasting Property Tax Cuts: Legislation to cut property tax rates solely by reducing the school district maximum compressed tax rate in order to provide lasting property-tax relief for Texas taxpayers.

Abbott ended his statement announcing the second special session with a warning to the Texas Legislature: “Unless and until the House and Senate agree on a different proposal to provide property tax cuts, I will continue to call for lasting property tax cuts through rate reductions and working toward eliminating the school property tax in Texas. Special sessions will continue to focus on only property tax cuts until property tax cut legislation reaches my desk.”

The House and Senate have yet to reach an agreement on property tax relief, but there have been significant developments in the past week.

Texas Senate Adds Classroom Teacher Bonuses to Property Tax Relief Plan

One of the most significant developments is the Senate’s decision to add “supplemental payments” for full-time classroom teachers to its property tax relief plan last week. 

The Senate’s plan includes an increase in the homestead exemption from $40,000 to $100,000, in addition to spending billions on property tax compression. The Senate’s property tax relief plan had thus far remained largely unchanged, until last week. Public education champion Sen. Roland Gutierrez advanced an amendment to the Senate plan that would provide teachers with one-time bonuses in 2024 and 2025, structured as follows:

  • $2,000 for teachers in school districts with student enrollment of greater than 20,000
  • $6,000 for teachers in school districts with student enrollment of 20,000 or fewer

This bipartisan amendment was adopted unanimously in a major win for our members, as thus far, the Texas Legislature has delivered nothing for our starved public schools or school employees struggling under glacial financial pressure caused by years of increasing inflation and stagnant compensation. 

It’s important to note, though, that while the bonuses in SJR 1 would help teachers, the Senate proposal would not provide the permanent raises educators need to earn a living wage and countless essential school employees would be left behind. 

Additionally, educators are justified in concerns about the equity of these bonuses, given the arbitrary student enrollment threshold deciding payment amounts. These are the same concerns we brought up in the regular session when these bonuses were first proposed as part of SB 9. 

Texas AFT will be monitoring this proposal and advocating for changes to the structure of the supplemental payments to prioritize bonuses for educators with a standard certification and those with greater experience — rather than their district’s size.

In this map, you can see how teachers in Texas school districts would be compensated under SJR 1 based on student enrollment. Districts shaded in red could offer teachers $6,000 bonuses, while districts in blue could offer $2,000.

Texas House Democrats Announce Alternate Property Tax Relief Plan, Basic Allotment Increase

This week, the Texas House of Representatives’ Ways & Means Committee once again approved a property tax plan identical to the House’s proposal from the first special session, which would spend 100% of the revenue available for property tax relief on rate compression. Also, the House Select Study Committee on Sustainable Property Tax Relief met on Friday to hear invited testimony related to reducing the tax burden of appraisal increases on all real property.

(Wondering what any of that means for homeowners or the public schools that rely on property tax funding? Our friends at Every Texan are the experts.)  

The most significant development out of the Texas House came Thursday. A group of Texas House Democrats unveiled an alternative property tax relief plan authored by Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas) to provide meaningful property tax relief to all Texans and guarantee a strong foundation for our public schools. HB 62 includes the following provisions:

  • Increases the basic allotment by $1,000 and indexes it to inflation, resulting in a permanent increase in school employee salaries.
  • Establishes a homestead exemption of $100,000 or 25% of a home’s appraised value (whichever is higher), up to a cap of $200,000.
  • Extends tax relief to the 38% of Texas households who rent their homes with a cash rebate of up to 10% of the rent paid in the previous year.
  • Implements a 6-cent reduction of school maintenance and operation taxes. A balance between the House and Senate proposals to ease the burden on taxpayers while safeguarding essential school operations.

Texas AFT is deeply grateful to Rep. John Bryant, Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, Rep. Donna Howard, Rep. Vikki Goodwin, Rep. Christina Morales, and Rep. Mihaela Plesa for their work to support our public schools and those who work in them.

In a statement Thursday, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo thanked the House Democrats behind HB 62, as well as Sen. Roland Gutierrez, for bringing public school funding and public school employee pay forward in these special sessions. 

“I am grateful to see this issue addressed in a special session on property taxes as there should be no tension between property tax relief for homeowners and renters and adequate funding for their community schools,” Capo said. “This state has enough money in the bank to do both. It merely lacks the political will.”

Vouchers: What’s Next in the Fight for Thriving Public Schools

Speaker Dade Phelan established the Texas House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment last month to “consider issues and matters that broadly affect educational opportunities for K-12 students in Texas and make recommendations for:

  1. Ensuring all Texas youths enjoy equal educational opportunity and the freedom to obtain a quality education, regardless of circumstance;
  2. Improving outcomes for Texas public school students and meaningfully supporting educators and educational institutions; and
  3. Modernizing assessment and accountability measures for Texas schools educating K-12 students.”

The select committee’s first hearings will be held this coming Tuesday and Wednesday — July 11 and July 12 — without public testimony.

Submit Public Comments. No decisions on vouchers or school funding without us!

Members of the public, however,  can submit public comments to the committee through the House’s online portal. These comments will be distributed to House committee members, and they will be made publicly available on the House and legislative websites. This makes them an incredibly useful tool for registering your opinion, even if you can’t make it to the Capitol to testify about issues that matter to you.

You can download our how-to guide on public comments online.

What does this mean for you and your work?

Unpacking the 88th Legislature

What does all this mean for you and your job? How does the property tax debate happening now in Austin affect your schools? And what about vouchers — are they really dead? Join us Tuesday on Zoom to recap the highlights and lowlights. 

We’ll also take action together, submitting online comments to the House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity, if you’re new to the comments portal and need some help. Bring a friend!