School fund­ing bat­tle in­ten­si­fies

House pushes bill to boost cash for most dis­tricts, threat­ens de­rail­ment of Se­nate ed­u­ca­tion agenda.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang jchang@states­man.com

Texas House mem­bers dug in Fri­day in their bat­tle with Se­nate Re­pub­li­cans over ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, repris­ing po­si­tions they took dur­ing the reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive ses­sion ear­lier this year.

In a 130-12 vote, the House gave pre­lim­i­nary ap­proval to House Bill 21 by House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, which would give al­most all school dis­tricts ex­tra money. Hours later, a House com­mit­tee dis­man­tled a Se­nate pro­posal to in­di­rectly use tax­payer money to help stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties pay for pri­vate school tu­ition.

The $1.8 bil­lion price tag of HB 21 would be paid for by de­lay­ing some pay­ments to school dis­tricts in the up­com­ing bud­get cycle un­til the 2020-21 bi­en­nium.

Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, who pre­sides over the Se­nate, has called the House’s pro­posal to fund HB 21 a “Ponzi scheme.”

Hu­berty dis­missed that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion Fri­day and said that

the Leg­is­la­ture has ap­proved such a fund­ing mech­a­nism be­fore and that his bill would give Tex­ans prop­erty tax re­lief.

“It’s in­dis­putable that we’re fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion at the low­est level the state’s ever funded it be­fore and we’re do­ing it on the back of the tax­pay­ers,” Hu­berty said.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Ar­ling­ton, who voted against HB 21, sug­gested from the House floor that the state hasn’t shirked its re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause the state con­tin­ues to pump money each year into the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. But ac­cord­ing to the Leg­isla­tive Bud­get Board, the state’s share of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is slated to de­crease from 42 per­cent this year to 38 per­cent by 2019, leav­ing school dis­tricts to pick up the rest.

Hu­berty said that if the Se­nate doesn’t ap­prove HB 21, he will spike a bill that would cre­ate a state com­mis­sion to study the state’s school fi­nance sys­tem, one of Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s 20 pri­or­ity bills for the spe­cial ses­sion. Hu­berty said one bill doesn’t work with­out the other and the state has al­ready stud­ied the school fi­nance sys­tem mul­ti­ple times.

Re­cap­ture pay­ments

HB 21 would in­crease the per-stu­dent ba­sic al­lot­ment to $5,350 from $5,140. In­creas­ing the ba­sic al­lot­ment would re­duce re­cap­ture pay­ments that prop­er­ty­wealthy school dis­tricts must pay to the state to help prop­erty-poor school dis­tricts by ap­prox­i­mately $389 mil­lion over the next two years.

The Austin school dis­trict pays more than any other school dis­trict in the state — an es­ti­mated $534 mil­lion next school year — in such pay­ments, of­ten called Robin Hood pay­ments.

“Es­pe­cially with the amount that Austin has to pay to the state un­der Robin Hood, (HB 21) is just a drop in the bucket un­for­tu­nately, but I ap­pre­ci­ate we’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” Rep. Gina Hi­no­josa, D-Austin, who is the past Austin school board pres­i­dent, told the Amer­i­can-States­man.

HB 21 would in­crease fund­ing to Austin by $25 mil­lion over the next two years. The Pflugerville school dis­trict would re­ceive $6 mil­lion over the next two years, Round Rock $22 mil­lion, Le­an­der $9 mil­lion and Hays $2 mil­lion.

Other parts of HB 21 in­clude:

■ A $200 mil­lion hard­ship grant pro­gram for about 200 school dis­tricts slated to lose Ad­di­tional State Aid for Tax Re­duc­tion in Septem­ber.

■ New fund­ing to help schools ed­u­cate chil­dren with dyslexia and re­lated disor­ders and more money to help schools ed­u­cate non-na­tive-English speak­ers.

■ Re­mov­ing out­dated fund­ing for­mula el­e­ments and giv­ing a boost to small school dis­tricts.

■ Ex­pand­ing high school ca­reer and tech­nol­ogy fund­ing to eighth grade.

“With House Bill 21, we have a great op­por­tu­nity to help schools and ad­dress the big­gest cause of higher prop­erty tax bills,” said House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San An­to­nio.

If the state’s rainy day fund ex­ceeds $10 bil­lion, the ex­cess money would be used to­ward pay­ing for the HB 21 pro­vi­sions in the long run, Hu­berty said. Vot­ers would need to ap­prove this fund­ing mech­a­nism through a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that the Leg­is­la­ture would also have to ap­prove.

Tax credit schol­ar­ships

In a move that threat­ens to de­rail the Se­nate’s ed­u­ca­tion agenda, the House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee on Fri­day scrubbed pro­vi­sions from Se­nate Bill 2, in­clud­ing one that would have cre­ated a tax credit schol­ar­ship for stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties.

“I’m not sur­prised, but dis­ap­pointed that some in the House chose to ig­nore and deny sev­eral thou­sand fam­i­lies with spe­cial needs chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity to choose an ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­nity for their child that works best for them,” said Sen. Larry Tay­lor, R-Friendswood, the orig­i­nal au­thor of SB 2.

Un­der the orig­i­nal bill, pub­lic school stu­dents who have dis­abil­i­ties could have qual­i­fied for up to $10,000 in tax credit schol­ar­ships to at­tend a pri­vate school. Stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties who want to stay in pub­lic school would have got­ten some money too — up to $500 in 2019 and in­creas­ing 5 per­cent ev­ery year af­ter that.

The tax credit schol­ar­ships and ed­u­ca­tion as­sis­tance pro­grams would have been funded by do­na­tions from in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, who in re­turn would re­ceive a tax credit from the state, capped at $75 mil­lion each fis­cal year.

Pro­po­nents of the tax credit schol­ar­ship have said that it would have given a small num­ber of stu­dents an op­por­tu­nity to leave pub­lic schools that weren’t serv­ing their needs.

Op­po­nents saw the schol­ar­ships as a threat to pub­lic school fund­ing and have said that fam­i­lies might not un­der­stand that they would lose le­gal pro­tec­tions un­der fed­eral ed­u­ca­tion law if they go to pri­vate schools.

Dur­ing the reg­u­lar ses­sion that ended in May, ru­ral House Re­pub­li­cans along with Democrats sank an ef­fort to of­fer pub­lic money for pri­vate school tu­ition, an idea pop­u­lar among Se­nate Re­pub­li­cans.

The new ver­sion of SB 2 would cre­ate a $30 mil­lion grant pro­gram over the next two years for par­ents of pub­lic school stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties to use on pri­vate ser­vices, like ther­a­pies and tu­tor­ing. Pri­vate providers would have to re­port on stu­dents’ progress.

“I hope they will see this as do­ing ex­actly what they wanted to do — pro­vide ser­vices for th­ese spe­cial needs stu­dents,” said Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Bos­ton, who of­fered the re­vised ver­sion of SB 2.

Ab­bott, who has directed the Leg­is­la­ture dur­ing the spe­cial ses­sion to ad­dress school fi­nance and im­prove ed­u­ca­tional choices to par­ents of spe­cial needs chil­dren, hasn’t pub­licly voiced sup­port for HB 21 but has done so for SB 2. Con­tact Julie Chang at 512-912-2565.

Un­der the orig­i­nal bill, pub­lic school stu­dents who have dis­abil­i­ties could have qual­i­fied for up to $10,000 in tax credit schol­ar­ships to at­tend a pri­vate school. Stu­dents with dis­abil­i­ties who want to stay in pub­lic school would have got­ten some money, too — up to $500 in 2019 and in­creas­ing 5 per­cent ev­ery year af­ter that.

NICK WAG­NER / AMERICANSTATESMAN

House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, spon­sored House Bill 21, which would give al­most all school dis­tricts ex­tra money.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.