When state leaders take action that responds directly to the requests of their constituents, it is time to stop everything, shout thank you and offer a sustained round of applause.
An occasion for just such a display of appreciation occurred recently when House Bill 3 was introduced. In case you missed it, HB 3, dubbed “The Texas Plan for Transformational School Finance Reform,” was announced by House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty, R-Houston, as he stood surrounded by a crowd of House members. He and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, were justifiably pleased to be able to share the elements of this bill. This week, the committee heard overwhelmingly positive testimony in a public hearing.
The bill includes $9 billion in funding above enrollment growth over the next two years, but it also takes steps to improve the badly out-of-date school funding system, eliminating inefficient elements and establishing new priorities.
HB3 makes a serious stab at addressing as many school finance problems as possible in a comprehensive approach to improving how Texas public schools are funded. Here are just a few of the “fixes” included in the 150-page bill:
Property tax: In recent years the state has steadily reduced its share of school funding from 46 percent in 2008 to a 36 percent this year. Of course, that means that your local share has risen from 54 percent in 2008 to 64 percent. HB3 reverses that trend, increasing the state’s share by about 5 percent each year of the upcoming biennium.
Teacher pay: HB3 increases the minimum teacher salary schedule, provides an additional $140 million for recruiting and retaining teachers and creates a grant program for training teachers to effectively combine e-learning and traditional classroom instruction.
Updates formulas: Some formulas in the school finance system have not been updated in 30 years or more. HB3 addresses some of those formulas, including the transportation funding model, which creates a simplified $1.00 per mile reimbursement.
Robin Hood: The number of districts paying recapture to the state has increased dramatically over recent years. HB3 addresses this concern by reducing these payments by 38 percent this biennium.
Early childhood: HB3 establishes a program to fund full-day pre-kindergarten for some of our neediest students, targets money to schools with higher concentrations of underserved students and provides funding for extended-year summer instruction.
Funding per student: Texas typically ranks 42nd—47th among states in per-pupil funding. HB3 raises the basic allotment to $6,030 from $5,140, an $890-per-student increase.
These proposals, and others in the bill, are greatly appreciated by school advocates around the state. It is tremendously helpful when state leaders take steps to improve the school finance system and to identify dollars that can flow to Texas districts to open doors for the 5.4 million school children who count on us.
Yes, it is too early to claim victory. We all know that there will be debates and compromises and many long hours involved before the final decisions are made. And we know that there are many detractors who will speak up with loud voices.
However, we do want to pause in these early days of the session to say thank you to Speaker Bonnen, Chairman Huberty and the House members who have heard the call from educators throughout the state to improve funding for our teachers, our schools and most especially, our students.
Submitted by Jim Rice, a trustee in Fort Bend ISD, who is serving this year as Vice President of the Texas Association of School Boards and TASB Legislative Committee Chair.