House Initiative to Improve School Finance Gets Under Way

House Public Education Committee chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) on Monday filed the House leadership’s initial plan to improve school finance for the coming biennium. The bill is HB 21 (the low number signals it’s a leadership priority), and House rules were suspended so that the bill can be heard on Tuesday, March 7, in Huberty’s committee.

According to Huberty’s layout of the bill at a Monday press conference, key features of the proposal include:

–an increase of $210 on average in the basic allotment that flows to all school districts and charter entities, with 95 percent of them seeing a gain in funding.

–a reduction of the so-called recapture by the state of revenue from higher-wealth districts for redistribution to lower-wealth districts, yielding recapture relief of $350 million for the high-wealth group.

–a funding boost for districts based on the number of students with dyslexia they serve.

–relief totaling $200 million for districts that currently stand to lose “hold harmless” funding designed to protect them from losses that otherwise would have been caused by a previous school-finance bill passed in 2006.

–a change in transportation funding formulas that gives high-wealth districts and charter entities access to such funds for the first time.

–elimination of certain funding flows outside the basic allotment—including a high-school allotment and an allocation of $500 per year per support staffer—to help pay for the increased funding flowing under this bill via the basic allotment to nearly every district. (The change in the allocation for support personnel is more nominal than real—it seems this has not been a separate line item in the budget for some while and simply has been folded into districts’ overall funding entitlement.)

Rep. Huberty called the proposal a first step in a multi-session process, but one that would deliver more resources to school districts—at a net new cost of $1.6 billion in increased funding—and would distribute those resources in a “smarter” way. He stressed the bipartisan support for the bill in the House—a point borne out by his roster of joint authors:   Democrats Chris Turner of Arlington and Harold Dutton of Houston along with Republicans John Zerwas of Richmond and Ken King of Canadian. Zerwas brings special clout to the HB 21 coalition, given his chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee, which is writing the House version of the state budget for fiscal years 2018-2019.

HB 21 and a batch of other school-finance proposals will be laid out for detailed discussion in a hearing set for mid-day Tuesday. Many questions remain to be answered about the workings of HB 21—including just how much it does to improve funding equity for districts with lower local property wealth—and Texas AFT will keep you posted as the bill moves forward.