December 15, 2014
Sen. Kirk Watson filed a package of bills on Monday aimed at jump-starting the discussion about how to fix our school finance system, regardless of any ruling by the Texas Supreme Court in the lawsuit brought by two-thirds of Texas school districts.
“There’s a lack of political will to do anything about our school finance system until we’re forced to do so by the court. Oddly, there’s also a lack of will to begin even talking about how to fix it,” Watson said. “Everybody knows our school finance system is broken, and continuing to do nothing about it is a disservice to the schoolchildren and taxpayers of Texas.”
The bills address some fundamental problems that can be tackled right now to help school districts, regardless of the lawsuit.
For example, the state transportation allotment, which is funding intended to assist schools with the cost of transportation, hasn’t been changed in three decades and now covers only about one-third of the costs school districts incur to get children to school. A lot has changed since 1984 and every dollar spent by a local district on transportation is money taken from educating a child in the classroom. Sen. Watson’s proposal, SB 241, requires the state to cover an equal share of transportation costs so that more dollars can go into educating students.
Two bills offer alternative approaches to the Cost of Education Index, which is a basic part of the funding formula and accounts for variations in hiring costs. In some communities, it costs more to attract teachers because of the cost of living or the location.
But the measure has not been updated since its inception in 1991. Texas—and local communities in Texas—have changed a great deal in almost a quarter of a century. The Cost of Education Index no longer has any basis in reality. Senator Watson has offered two options:
1. SB 243: Simply update the Cost of Education Index to reflect current conditions
2. SB 244: Eliminate the Cost of Education Index. A contingency rider would be needed in the appropriations bill to flow the same amount of money to school districts through the basic allotment.
Senator Watson’s other bills related to school finance include the following:
“Texas should address these important issues independent of the lawsuit. It’s silly that our state relies upon decades old information to pay for schools today,” Watson said.