School Finance Agreement? Maybe

Conference committee nearing deal, but let's see what chambers say

Hurry up and wait: The Capitol press corps waits in the Senate back corridor for the school finance conference committee to emerge. Or Christmas, whichever comes first
Hurry up and wait: The Capitol press corps waits in the Senate back corridor for the school finance conference committee to emerge. Or Christmas, whichever comes first (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

Most times, when you're tracking a bill in the Lege, you follow the sponsoring lawmakers. Today the eyes were on House Speaker Chief of Staff Denise Davis*, because wherever she was going was where the school finance deal was being brokered. Now there may be a conference committee deal struck on Senate Bill 1811, but it still needs to pass both chambers.

Talk about down-to-the-wire. The drop-dead deadline was, according to Calendars Committee Chair Charlie Geren, 5pm. Then House Appropriations Committee Chair Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, upgraded that to 5.30pm. Truth was, the House and Senate conference committee appointees were still stuck in a meeting in the lieutenant governor's room. After a few appearances and a lot of fussing, they finally emerged to say yes, they believe they have a deal they can get to the printers before the 9pm calendar cut-off.

What is on offer is a weird hodge-podge of the Senate version (which the House hated) and the House version (which the Senate hated.) The details are still to be made publicly available, but the quick boil down is half of one, half of the other. Rather than a true hybrid, this is a chimera: It basically takes the 6% across-the-board cut from the House for the 2011-12 school year, then shifts to the funding formula revisions from the Senate for 2012-13.

The expectation had been for a hybrid model, but this mid-course switch is a new twist. Sen. Leticia van de Putte, D-San Antonio, was part of the conference committee and said that the idea first came up during Wednesday's debate. The plan in the 2013-14 school year is to start phasing out the complicated target revenue fund, and put the cash straight into baseline funding. However, she remains furious that no serious attempt was made to find fresh funding, and so the task was always about spreading the per-student cuts.

If either the House or Senate says no, then the bill goes down and the legislature is back in the Summer to fix it (importantly, they will already almost definitely be back anyway for Texas Windstorm Insurance Association reform, which died a death already.)

The perils are many. Neither the House nor the Senate has ever actually passed their own school finance proposals, so the first question will be about what exactly the conference committee is compromising on. There are also many reps, especially in poor and rural districts, that are terrified about how badly the ISDs in their districts will get hit. The Democrats are furious because, for all the claims that they would be involved in the negotiations, keeping the Rainy Day Fund off the table sidelined their biggest demand. Then there are the real questions about how where the system would go in 2013, especially since every school district's baseline funding will be lower than ever in that second year.

Yeah, don't forget that: This is all just about the Legislature cutting its responsibilities and obligations to schools. That could be enough to get the GOP on-board. As Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, said when asked whether it would pass, he said, "Yup. 100 to 49." *Corrected from earlier reference to "House Parliamentarian"; Davis became Chief of Staff to Speaker Joe Straus at the beginning of the session

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More 82nd Legislature
Court Rules: Texas Voter ID Still Racist
Court Rules: Texas Voter ID Still Racist
Second ruling finds GOP deliberately suppressed minority vote

Richard Whittaker, April 11, 2017

Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down
Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down
5th Circuit: Senate Bill 14 violates Voting Rights Act

Richard Whittaker, July 20, 2016

More State Budget
Last Day at the Lege
Last Day at the Lege
Sine die arrives as threat of a special session looms

Richard Whittaker, May 29, 2017

How Much Will Texas Spend?
Budget in Progress
The Legislature's conference committee spending proposals

Richard Whittaker, May 21, 2015

More by Richard Whittaker
Fantastic Fest Interview: <i>The Boy Behind the Door</i>
Interview: The Boy Behind the Door
David Charbonier and Justin Powell on their dark thriller

Sept. 27, 2020

Bigfoot and Butterflies: Across the Dark Divide With David Cross
Bigfoot and Butterflies: Across the Dark Divide With David Cross
How shooting his wilderness adventure changed his brain

Sept. 25, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

82nd Legislature, State Budget, Education, School Budget, Senate Bill 1811, SB 1811

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle