May 7, 2019
With less than three weeks left in the 86th Legislature, the clock is ticking on an incredibly important school finance bill.
After a slow start, the Senate finally approved its version of House Bill 3 on Monday.
I was very active in the process to improve the legislation because it’s the most consequential piece of legislation we’ll consider this session. I offered a number of amendments aimed at fixing things I disagree with and improving parts that, while they may stay in the bill, they can be made better.
While this bill has aspects I seriously disagree with, it also has reforms I strongly support. And, very importantly, the process is not finished. I intend to continue to work to get us to a better — a good — result.
The Good Stuff
As some great philosopher once observed, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” And the good reforms are some important things some of us have wanted for years. So it’s worth continuing to refine this legislation.
Much of our current school finance system is terribly out-of-date and fails to reflect the true cost of educating today’s children. The changes in House Bill 3 will help our schools serve students better, particularly through full-day pre-k and a true focus on getting resources to economically disadvantaged children. Both of these reforms will ensure that we’re supporting the students who need it most.
House Bill 3 also contemplates a reform to the financing system. I’ve been saying for years that the state has become grossly over-reliant on local property taxes to cover the Legislature’s constitutional obligation to provide public education. HB 3 will put billions in state money toward reducing school property tax rates by 10 cents, which would have the effect of trimming $300 off the tax bill of a home with a $300,000 taxable value. That’s a big step in the right direction after more than a decade of inaction by the Legislature.
HB 3 includes a significant property tax reduction that doesn’t rely on an increase in any other taxes. I offered the amendment that dedicated three existing sources of revenue to what we’re calling the Tax Reduction and Excellence in Education Fund. The amendment reflected the consensus of a workgroup put together by Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson to consider different revenue options. One of the sources of revenue is the Rainy Day Fund. We should be putting that money to work and I think reducing property taxes and putting more state money into education is a good use.
On the other side of the Capitol, the House will debate legislation today that will increase the sales tax rate by 1-cent in order to pay for a property tax swap. That’s a funding approach that I simply can’t support because it places an unfair burden on renters as well as homeowners making less than $100,000. It’s just not a good trade.
The Not So Good Stuff
I’m disappointed that House Bill 3 still ties school funding and teacher pay to STAAR test, despite amendments attempting to remove those provisions from the bill. But several of my amendments were aimed at making those programs more workable, such as limiting the reliance on STAAR for the teacher merit-pay program and ensuring special education teachers are evaluated against other special education teachers. I also amended the bill to provide for state funding for an alternative to the STAAR test if districts want to use one and getting work done to assure some alternative can be available. Those changes have now been incorporated into the bill.
As a whole, the legislation makes critical investments in our public schools — investments and reforms we’ve been seeking for years — and, as I said, I expect the final product will be even better.