House action: clean sweep for school funding; committee rejects vouchers

It was a clean sweep in the Texas House today for three key bills on school funding: HB 21 to increase school aid; HB 30 to pay for the increase; and HB 23 to provide for autism grants within the public schools. All passed easily on second reading, with the first two garnering 131 and 130 votes respectively and the autism grants passing by voice vote. The bills come back up for third and final reading on the House floor Monday, but it looks as if they will then head over to the Senate with a strong head of steam. Thanks are due to all of you who took part in our online letter campaigns and other efforts to move this legislation forward with maximum momentum.

In the House Public Education Committee this afternoon lawmakers made short work of the Senate voucher bill, SB 2. The committee stripped vouchers and charter-facilities funding and everything else from the Senate version and passed a complete substitute, containing only the text of a disability-grants bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), HB 320. The language of HB 320, and now of SB 2 as passed in committee today, gives students with disabilities enrolled in public schools access to extra services from providers approved by the commissioner of education. The services would supplement what the public schools provide under the students’ individual education plans. The students would retain all their rights to least restrictive placement and to due process under federal law, and districts would retain their obligations under federal law to oversee and ensure proper services.

The committee did not act today on the governor’s “performance pay” bill, HB 198 by Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), nor did it vote on the governor’s proposal of a school-finance commission to study changes in state policy on funding for public education. The House version of that latter proposal, HB 191 by Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), will come up for a committee vote at a meeting next Monday, committee chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) announced today.

legecollageHere’s a recap of what is in the three key bills that passed with more than 90-percent support on the House floor today:

HB 30 provides $1.9 billion in funding for the next two school years from the state’s huge Economic Stabilization Fund reserve (the so-called Rainy Day Fund). HB 30 underwrites the new state commitments to increased school aid spelled out in HB 21. (HB 30 in addition sets aside $30 million in new state aid for disability grants to school districts.)

HB 21 makes a desperately needed increase in state-guaranteed formula funding for school districts, averaging $210 per pupil (to $5,350 from $5,140). The bill takes a big first step toward the restoration of state funding–which has dwindled in recent years to just 31 percent of funding for school districts. By increasing state aid, HB 21 provides significant relief for districts subject to recapture, gives small districts a fairer shake, and gives hardship grants to districts facing the loss of expiring hold-harmless funding they have come to depend on. The legislation also eases the pressure on local property-tax payers, who have had to bear a disproportionate share of the cost of public education.

HB 21 also devotes new resources to English Language Learners, to eighth-graders enrolled in career and tech courses, and to ┬ástudents with dyslexia. The state’s strengthened commitment to students with disabilities is further reflected in HB 23, which channels new funding to the public schools to serve students with autism while fully protecting their rights to an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment–protection they would lose under any private-school voucher scheme.

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