Naked City

Senate Begins Tinkering With School Finance

The Senate Public Education Committee began work on school finance on Tuesday, giving clues that the committee may prefer a bit, but certainly not all, of the language in HB 2 when it rolls out its own SB 2 next week.

Democrats on the Senate committee, unlike its sister committee in the House, appear ready to keep the pending school finance litigation front and center during the discussion. In a first day of discussion, Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pointed to areas of the bill and raised the issue of the court case repeatedly. Asked by the media whether HB 2 addressed the Dietz ruling, however, Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, had a one-word answer: No. "We have to keep in mind that this is one judge in one district [court] in the state of Texas," Shapiro told reporters. "This is on appeal to the Supreme Court."

Shapiro promises the Senate plan will be equitable because education funding will come from a statewide property tax, a proposal that school districts historically have opposed. During a panel discussion, however, the lead counsel on the West-Orange Cove litigation told the committee that he would keep an open mind. "If a state property tax is nothing more than a rearrangement of the chairs on the deck, you'll hear the same concerns," said David Thompson of the Bracewell and Giuliani firm. "We're concerned about the overall package, that it really does provide some stability and capacity. I want to look at that issue in the broader context of where schools probably will be."

Funding must be adequate, Thompson said. He compared it to building a house. The best part of building the house often is imagining and designing what the house will look like in the blueprint. But at some point, you have to sit down and build that house. The question isn't, "Does this meet my heart's desire?" Instead, it's more like, "Do my plans match up with my budget?" Thompson said. "We are really good at setting high expectations. We need to make sure we fund an education that is moving [students] forward over a period of time and is sufficient to cover the cost within an equalized system."

The Senate continues hearings on Thursday, and will craft its own bill, combining HBs 2 and 3, next week.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

public educationTexas Legislature, Senate Public Education Committee, House Bill 2, House Bill 3, Royce West, Florence Shapiro

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