School dis­tricts ap­plaud plan to pro­vide $1.6 bil­lion boost,

Bill called good first step; Austin trustee seeks re­cap­ture fix.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang jchang@states­man.com Con­tact Julie Chang at 512912-2565. Twit­ter: @juliechang1

A bill that would give a $1.6 bil­lion boost to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion over the next two years re­ceived sup­port from school dis­tricts and their ad­vo­cates Tues­day.

Al­though top-down re­form of the state’s trou­bled school fi­nance sys­tem won’t oc­cur this year, leg­is­la­tors Mon­day pro­posed ad­dress­ing some of school dis­tricts’ most press­ing fi­nan­cial prob­lems. House Bill 21 would add $210 per stu­dent for more than 95 per­cent of school dis­tricts, for a ba­sic al­lot­ment of $5,350 per stu­dent. It also would cre­ate a $200 mil­lion grant pro­gram over the next two years for cash-strapped school dis­tricts, change fund­ing streams that school dis­tricts get to pro­vide bus ser­vice and give more money to ad­dress dyslexia.

Sev­eral school dis­tricts and their ad­vo­cates told the House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee on Tues­day that the bill, filed by the com­mit­tee’s chair Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, was a good first step in school fi­nance re­form.

“We fare a lit­tle bet­ter than where we are to­day, but we’re still try­ing to find a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to this bur­den that we have of re­cap­ture,” said Julie Cowan, an Austin school dis­trict trustee whose dis­trict en­com­passes North­west Austin, re­fer­ring to the sys­tem that re­dis­tributes money from dis­tricts with high prop­erty wealth to those that with low prop­erty wealth. “The sys­tem is just so, so wrong.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board, the bill would add $20 mil­lion to the cof­fers of the Austin school dis­trict over the next two years — small when con­sid­er­ing the $536 mil­lion the dis­trict is ex­pected to pay back to the state un­der the re­cap­ture sys­tem next fis­cal year.

The Austin school dis­trict’s re­cap­ture pay­ments are higher than any other school dis­trict in the state.

The high re­cap­ture pay­ments have led to ne­glect of Austin school fa­cil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to two Austin par­ents who tes­ti­fied be­fore the com­mit­tee Tues­day.

The av­er­age dis­trict build­ing is 40 years old and de­ferred main­te­nance on fa­cil­i­ties is near­ing $2 bil­lion.

Al­though more peo­ple tes­ti­fied in sup­port of the bill than against it, there were con­cerns that the bill didn’t do enough to sup­port all school dis­tricts.

Michael Open­shaw, from Collin County, said that the bill seemed too rushed.

Me­lanie Bush, a Con­roe school dis­trict trustee, said the bill would elim­i­nate the dis­trict’s trans­porta­tion fund­ing and the in­crease in the ba­sic al­lot­ment for the school dis­trict would be used to pay for it.

Chan­dra Vil­lanueva, se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst with the Austin-based lib­eral think tank Cen­ter for Pub­lic Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties, also had con­cerns about how trans­porta­tion would be funded and rec­om­mended that law­mak­ers first study whether the bill does enough to fund dyslexia ser­vices.

The bill will un­dergo re­vi­sions be­fore the com­mit­tee con­sid­ers pass­ing it on to the full cham­ber.

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Texas State Rep. Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton (right), chair­man of the House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, has filed a bill propos­ing a $1.6 bil­lion boost for the state’s pub­lic schools.

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