Lawmakers Agree to Improve School Funding

Full-day pre-K, financial assistance, and more to support the state's public schools

On Saturday, the House and Senate each gave their final approval to HB 3 and its $6.5 billion investment in the state's K-12 system, providing pay raises to most school employees, additional resources to help educate the state's most vulnerable students, and funding for districts that want to implement merit pay programs for teachers. HB 3's $5.1 billion property tax buydown, designed to appease Repub­lic­ans who would never support simply spending more on essential government services, helped the package pass unanimously in both chambers, and lawmakers from both parties insisted the historic investment in Texas public schools would be transformative.

Whether school employees will be satisfied with their likely modest pay increases remains to be seen, but students should see a real impact. One of HB 3's big accomplishments is state funding for full-day, high-quality pre-K for low-income students. Education experts widely agree that early childhood education can make a profound impact in the future lives of young students; even districts that already fund such programs (like Austin ISD) will benefit from the new state dollars so they can reinvest the money they are currently using for pre-K elsewhere.

The bill also updates funding formulas to provide more assistance for low-income students and students with dyslexia. Districts have new incentives to implement or expand dual-language programs, helping both English-language learners and those acquiring other languages. And the property tax provisions of HB 3 are designed to mitigate the crippling burden the state's recapture funding mechanism can have on property-wealthy school districts.

Before the bill passed either chamber, lawmakers were looking to 2021 and how to consolidate the funding gains made this session. In two years, recapture payments made by districts such as AISD will have risen back to today's levels, and the additional dollars injected into the education system will need to come from a new, sustainable source of revenue – something lawmakers were unable to accomplish this session, opting instead to close the gap with rainy day funds. One of the key architects of the package, Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, is already thinking of how to ensure the needed funding is there when the Lege returns. "We're watching with anticipation and excitement, because we're doing what we think will produce the best results," Bernal told the Chronicle. "And I believe that we can put our best minds to work early to ensure that there is no loss in funding, and that we can come up with solutions to get us through the next biennium."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

86th Texas Legislature, House Bill 3, School Finance, property tax buydown, Texas public schools, early childhood education, Austin ISD, recapture funding, Diego Bernal

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