Thanks to the thousands of letters, phone calls and tweets from our members and allies, a bill giving charter schools (and the corporations that run many of them from out of state) a special perk in the form of a property tax break, had a rocky road and was improved before passage.
Texas AFT opposed HB 3610 (Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, D-San Antonio) and rallied our members against it. The bill would allow owners of buildings to avoid property taxes when leasing to charter schools. By Friday, it appeared we would prevail. The House initially voted down the bill on second reading 76-66. However, a motion for a verifying voice vote proceeded after many House Democrats opposing the bill were not on the House floor, and the bill ended up passing 67-66.
On Saturday for the bill’s third and final reading, Rep. Dan Huberty of Houston added an amendment adding traditional school districts and community colleges to the bill to also receive the tax break when leasing buildings. (Although ISDs leasing facilities is not as common.) Huberty’s amendment also requires these landlords to pass on any tax savings directly back to schools. Rep. Gary Van Deaver of New Boston pointed out that the bill would still create a situation ripe for corruption, with charter schools leasing from related companies, and those landlords not delivering the tax breaks back. However, Huberty’s addition was enough to sway some legislators and the bill finally passed in a squeaker.
Our members speaking out also stopped another bad bill, HB 1348 (Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur), which would eliminate the authority of any elected official to determine where charter schools can locate in our communities. The House voted down that bill on Thursday. It was reconsidered then postponed until after the session after facing a point of order. A Senate companion bill, however, is still pending in the Senate Education Committee.