House Rolls Out School Finance Bill
Republican leaders propose $9 billion in funding for public schools over the next two years
Republican leaders in the Texas House of Representatives rolled out that chamber's long-awaited school finance bill, House Bill 3, at a press conference on Tuesday, March 5, proposing $9 billion in funding for public schools over the next two years, on top of $2 billion that's already been set aside to account for enrollment growth. Some of this funding injection would go toward increasing the "basic allotment" awarded to school districts from $5,140 to $6,030 per student. Increasing the basic allotment, which helps all school districts regardless of size or property wealth level, is seen as a less politically divisive way of boosting funding.
Largely based on recommendations put forth by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, HB 3 would also provide funding for full-day pre-K for low-income students across the state. Districts that already have full-day programs would be allowed to use the money for other initiatives targeted at improving early childhood literacy rates. HB 3, authored by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, would also reduce the maintenance and operations tax rate for all school districts by four cents; this local property tax compression, combined with the added state funding, would lower the recapture payments paid by "property-rich" districts such as Austin ISD.
A notable undercurrent of what Huberty has dubbed "The Texas Plan" is an emphasis on empowering school districts to determine the best use for much of their new funding. While the Texas Senate has approved a mandatory $5,000 across-the-board raise (Senate Bill 3) to all full-time teachers and librarians, the House would let local leaders determine what a district's merit pay system looks like and how the additional pay is administered – such as incentivizing teachers to work at low-performing schools, as AISD does with a program designed by its teachers union, Education Austin.
The 186-page HB 3 also allows districts to extend the school calendar by up to 30 days, should local leaders find the additional classroom time helps improve early literacy rates. The Texas Plan would increase per-pupil funding for low-income students and English-language learners (two populations that can be more expensive to educate) and allocates $140 million to help districts with "recruiting and retaining teachers," according to the bill's backers.
The Senate has yet to release its version of a comprehensive school finance bill, so it's unclear how compatible the two pieces of legislation will be, but the teacher pay provisions are already in conflict. It's possible that the Senate's $5,000 raise dies in the House and both chambers come together on a package that looks like the Texas Plan, but boosting teacher pay is a top priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and he applauded his chamber's passage of SB 3 on Monday. Gov. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, indicated his support of HB 3 in a statement: "We promised Texans that this session would be transformative and address big issues like school finance and property tax reform. And today's announcement by Chairman Huberty is a big step in honoring that pledge."