Bill of the Week
Last-minute school finance fix near collapse – special session beckons
By Richard Whittaker, Fri., May 27, 2011
SENATE Bill 1811Filed: March 11, 2011
Author: Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock
As the only potential source of extra cash this session, Senate Bill 1811 was always going to be important. Now it may be the most important bill of the session. Originally it was the vehicle for $4 billion in one-time revenue and accounting tricks to help get Texas through the next biennium. Then the Lege failed to enact any of the multiple school finance reform bills, and its last option is to tack education funding onto this unrelated measure in conference committee. However, they still don't know what kind of reform they want. House Public Education Committee Chair Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, is pushing for a strategy called proration – to cut every school district's funding by 6% – but the Senate hates that idea, arguing that it just kicks the school finance can down the road for another two years. Eissler's Senate counterpart Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, wants sweeping reforms, but the House fears permanent changes will cripple many school districts. Both options mean less investment in classrooms, but the race is on to get something approved by both chambers before the legislative session ends on Monday, May 30. School districts want word on the cuts before the summer break so they can finalize their mangled budgets. Legislative Republicans are terrified of a summer special session because that will keep their budget debacle on the front page for months. Yet if the House and Senate cannot reach an agreement soon, the whole budget (including the $4 billion Duncan worked so hard to find) implodes, and everyone will be back in July – if not sooner.
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