School Finance, Pension Hazard, Educator Misconduct

School Finance:  HB 21, the new school-finance bill filed by House Public Education Committee chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), is drawing broad support from groups that often have been at odds over the allocation of school funding. Groups representing high-wealth and low-wealth school districts alike endorsed Huberty’s proposal for an increase of $1.6 billion in state aid to districts. At a hearing on the bill Tuesday, it was noted that 95 percent of districts with 98 percent of all students in the state stand to gain an average of $210 per pupil in their basic allotment, which would rise to $5,350 from the current $5,140. One by-product of the increase would be that special funding weights, meant to compensate districts by applying a multiplier to their basic allotment for the higher costs of economically disadvantaged students and English Language Learners, would deliver more money. In addition, the increased entitlement to state aid would reduce the amount that higher-wealth districts must share with lower-wealth districts via “recapture.” A second hearing next week will give witnesses a chance to comment on further tweaks to HB 21 in response to concerns raised by the small number of outlier districts that stand to lose revenue under the bill.

Pension Hazard:  Gov. Greg Abbott’s nomination of a prominent critic of guaranteed-benefit pensions to chair the State Pension Review Board ran into significant resistance in the Senate Nominations Committee Thursday. Representatives of police officers, firefighters, and state, county, and municipal employees joined Texas AFT in opposing the nomination of Josh McGee, who works for a Houston-based foundation that has spearheaded attacks nationwide on pension plans providing a defined benefit you cannot outlive (like the Teacher Retirement System of Texas). Senators of both parties pressed McGee to explain how he could give state officials impartial advice wearing his Review Board hat while still serving as a zealous advocate of the Arnold Foundation pitch to switch more and more public employees to 401(k)-type, defined-contribution plans that do not guarantee any assured level of benefits. Several senators cited messages they are receiving from education employees in their districts with “fox in the henhouse” concerns about putting McGee in charge of state pension oversight.

McGee’s nomination, which requires the committee’s okay and then a two-thirds majority to be approved on the Senate floor, was left pending. That means you still have time and plenty of reason to add your voice to the outcry against this ill-advised appointment. Please do so now here!

Educator Misconduct: SB 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would ratchet up penalties for education employees who have improper relationships with students–and would impose new sanctions on those who knew or “should have known” of the misconduct but failed to take appropriate action in response. The Senate unanimously approved the bill after substantially amending it. An upcoming Hotline will note key features of the bill as it goes to the House. Of particular importance is clarifying the definition of “should have known.”