Texas Senate Delays Vote on School Finance–Have Your Say

You have one more day to send your message to the Texas Senate to support a sensible compromise on school finance, because the Senate has delayed action until Sunday evening on the key House bill, HB 21. Send your letter to your state senator now if you have not done so already!

These letters matter. Just yesterday Senate Education Committee chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who apparently is well aware that senators have been receiving lots of messages in support of increased school funding, said he wished more letters were going to House members in support of his proposed study commission to come up with a longer-term fix for school finance.

Speaking of Taylor’s study-commission bill, SB 16, that measure now is scheduled to come up on the House floor for a vote Sunday evening. The Senate convenes Sunday at 5 pm; the House will convene at 7:45 pm. Texas AFT has urged a compromise consisting of HB 21 as passed by the House and the Senate’s SB 16 school-finance commission. So far, unfortunately, the Senate committee substitute version of HB 21 is a meager remnant of the House-passed bill. Texas AFT testified against the substitute on Friday in committee.

The Senate substitute for HB 21, offering just $311 million versus $1.8 billion in the House bill, also devotes $60 million of that smaller amount to an objectionable provision, granting unprecedented facilities funding to charter schools without first ensuring equitable funding for school districts. Traditional school districts have seen the state’s share of their facilities funding shrink to less than 10 percent from 30 percent over the past 16 years. Charters already have an average $700-plus per-pupil advantage over school districts in operating funds–an advantage that substantially offsets their lack of state facilities funding.

Texas AFT urges senators now to support amendments moving the bill back toward the House funding level of $1.8 billion and toward the House allocation of that money. The House version raises the basic allotment per pupil significantly (by $210 per pupil on average), reduces the burden of recapture for major urban districts like Houston ISD and Austin ISD, provides additional hardship grants and aid to smaller districts, and flows new funding for bilingual education, for students with dyslexia, and for eighth-graders in career and tech courses. We also urge removal of the unjustified facilities funding for charters.

While the House and Senate are still far apart on school finance, they are moving bills into position for a potential compromise. Besides tomorrow’s scheduled Senate vote on HB 21 and the scheduled House vote on SB 16, there is action this weekend on two other related bills. The House Appropriations Committee this afternoon passed a modified version of SB 19, providing health-care cost relief to TRS retirees. And the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow will consider HB 30, the appropriations bill that provides the money to pay for the school-finance improvements in HB 21.

A special Sunday edition of the Hotline will update you on the status of all the major outstanding  issues of the special session affecting public education. The special session will end no later than August 16, so time is short for resolving House-Senate differences.