Rainy day fund might help schools

House pro­posal would seek vot­ers’ OK to steer money to ed­u­ca­tion.

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

Texas vot­ers would be asked to ap­prove on­go­ing spend­ing from the state’s rainy day fund for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and the Teacher Re­tire­ment Sys­tem un­der pro­pos­als dis­cussed Mon­day in the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

Un­like Se­nate Repub­li­cans, who op­pose us­ing the $10 bil­lion rainy day fund for items other than emer­gen­cies and one-time ex­penses, Texas House mem­bers are weigh­ing sev­eral bills that would use the fund to fill gap­ing holes in the state’s bud­get.

House Joint Res­o­lu­tion 53 by House Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Chair- man Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton, would bring to vot­ers a pro­posal to di­rect rainy day money above $10 bil­lion to the Foun­da­tion School Pro­gram — the pri­mary fund­ing mech­a­nism for pub­lic

schools in Texas.

Ac­cord­ing to the Leg­isla- tive Bud­get Board, the rainy

fund, which is for­mally known as the Eco­nomic Sta­bi­liza­tion Fund and is pri­mar­ily sup­ported by oil and gas pro­duc­tion taxes, should grow to about $11 bil­lion by fis­cal year 2019.

If the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proves HJR 53, it would be on the Nov. 7 bal­lot.

“If we don’t have leader- ship in the state that wants to spend the money to­day, let’s go to our vot­ers, present our case and say this is the right thing to do,” Hu­berty said.

He said Gov. Greg Ab­bott has asked the Leg­is­la­ture to fix the school fund­ing prob­lem by study­ing it first through a com­mis­sion, which has been pro­posed in other bills. Hu­berty has said that the Leg­is­la­ture has stud­ied it enough.

HJR 53 would work in con- cert with Hu­berty’s House Bill 21, which the House ten­ta­tively ap­proved Fri­day and over­whelm­ingly ap­proved in a fi­nal vote Mon­day.

That bill would pump $1.8 bil­lion into the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem through changes in the school fund­ing for­mula, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing the base amount of money pub­lic schools get per stu- dent from $5,140 to $5,350. Do­ing so would lower the

amount of re­cap­ture pay­ments that prop­erty-wealthy school dis­tricts such as Austin would have to make to the state to be re­dis­tributed to prop­erty-poor dis­tricts. Re­cap­ture pay­ments state- wide are ex­pected to be low­ered by $389 mil­lion over the next two years if HB 21 is passed. Other el­e­ments of HB 21

in­clude boost­ing fund­ing to ed­u­cate stu­dents who have dys­lexia and who are learn-

ing English as a sec­ond lan­guage, as well as cre­at­ing a $200 mil­lion hard­ship grant pro­gram, pri­mar­ily tar­geted at school dis­tricts that will lose Ad­di­tional State Aid for Tax Re­duc­tion in Septem­ber.

Michael Open­shaw, a con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist from Plano, told com­mit­tee mem- bers that the rainy day fund should not be used to fi­nance

on­go­ing ex­penses such as pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

“The amount of money we may be talk­ing about may be 1 bil­lion this year, 0 bil- lion the next year, 4 bil­lion ... four years later. It is not a con­sis­tent flow. Our kids are (a) con­sis­tent item and they need con­sis­tent fund­ing for them,” he said.

Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Zer­was, R-Rich­mond, said that the rainy day fund isn’t meant to be used only for one-time ex­penses.

“It’s to be used for some of those crit­i­cal is­sues that ... are def­i­nitely con­nected to the fact that our rev­enues go up and down based largely on what hap­pens with the oil and gas rev­enue,” he said.

The pro­posal falls within one of Ab­bott’s 20 spe­cial ses­sion agenda items, but it’s not an idea that Ab­bott has pub­licly sup­ported,

and if it’s ap­proved by the House, it’s likely to die in the Se­nate. The two cham­bers have tus­sled over how best to ap­proach the pub­lic school fi­nance sys­tem, which the Texas Supreme Court last year found was

in­ad­e­quate and barely con- sti­tu­tional.

Also Mon­day, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, pre­sented HJR 52, which would trans­fer into the Teacher Re­tire­ment Sys­tem any ex­cess money from the rainy day fund that is higher than the state comp- troller’s pro­jec­tions.

If the Leg­is­la­ture does not ad­dress the sys­tem dur­ing the spe­cial ses­sion, which will end next week, the sys­tem faces a short­fall of up to $500 mil­lion in the 2020-21 bi­en­nium. Both cham­bers have ap­proved spend­ing up to $213 mil­lion for the sys­tem, but each pro­posal dif­fers on the source of fund­ing.

Tim Lee, head of the Texas Re­tired Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, said he is con­cerned that law­mak­ers next ses­sion would use HJR 52, if it’s passed, to sup­plant fund­ing in­stead of sup­ple­ment it.

Jane Nel­son, chair­woman of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, has said that us­ing the rainy day fund for the re­tire­ment sys­tem is not a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion.


Rep. Dan Hu­berty wants the rainy day fund to aid schools once it goes above $10 bil­lion.

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