Update on School Finance Commission: How will it have an impact?

Rep. Dan Huberty

After meeting for the past year, the Texas Commission on School Finance is poised to vote on December 19 on a series of recommendations for comprehensive fixes to the state school finance system. (A final report to the Legislature with recommendations is then due by December 31, but you can view a draft here.)

For regular Hotline readers, you may remember all the way back in 2017 when the Texas House had a reasonable, bi-partisan plan to infuse money into the school finance system–to the tune of $1.8 billion. While this would have had a significant beneficial impact to school funding, it wouldn’t have been a comprehensive “fix” to what has openly been acknowledged by the courts, the legislators, school district and taxpayers as a broken system.

Unfortunately, we left the session without either–no comprehensive fix or big bump in funding–as the Senate, dominated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s agenda for private-school vouchers, nixed both ideas and opted instead to kick the can down the road with the creation of the Commission.

The Commission met Tuesday to hear recommendations from the Revenue Working Group. Included in Tuesday’s discussion were nine detailed proposals from Nicole Conley Johnson, Austin ISD’s chief of business operations. Johnson’s recommendations weren’t even allowed to be discussed at the last Revenue Working Group meeting last month, after the chair of that group–State Sen. Paul Bettencourt–flatly denied her the opportunity. (They were given a hearing at the full meeting Tuesday.) But Bettencourt did have discussion on Gov. Greg Abbott’s ill-conceived idea of capping local property tax increases at 2.5 percent, without naming any ideas where state funding would be found to make up for the lost revenue to schools.

Speaking of money, discussion on Tuesday centered around whether the Commission’s charge was intended to define if new money should be included in recommendations, or if it should only include recommendations on how to shift existing money. That debate was punctuated by Commission member Rep. Dan Huberty openly stating that he wouldn’t sign a final report unless it included new money. Rep. Ken King also chimed in to say that the commission would have wasted its time without new funding.