PLANO, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – State lawmakers and a school board president from North Texas say they’re encouraged by a new report unanimously approved this week by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance.
The 13-member commission, consisting of mostly state legislators and educators, had spent nearly one year compiling the report.
Their work comes a couple of weeks before the 2019 legislative session begins January 8 at the Texas Capitol and amid growing concerns that the state continues to rely more on property taxes to pay for public schools instead of the state’s general revenues.
Democrat State Senator Royce West of Dallas was one of the members of the Commission, which was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Joe Straus and the Chair of the State Board of Education Donna Bahorich.
Senator West said, “My number one priority driving this legislative session is to be a part of redoing public school finance in the state of Texas. We need additional dollars in our system. Dollars we have, we need to look at reallocating them in order to more effectively utilize them. What’s different this time around is you will have bipartisan support in order to get this done.”
The report focused on how the state should improve student performance, change the way the state pays for public schools so that property owners will see their burden reduced, and cut the amount of money the state takes back from property-wealthy school districts, commonly known as recapture or Robin Hood.
Many lawmakers and Governor Abbott agree the state needs to increase its share of education funding.
Republican State Representative Matt Shaheen of Plano said he’s confident the legislature will act. “Yes, the state’s going to step-up and provide additional funds, so that eventually we can get rid of Robin Hood and provide property tax relief. But I’m most excited again about how we’re going to allocate dollars. Merit-based pay focused on students, who are English as a second language and low income students.”
Plano ISD School Board President Missy Bender said the business community is backing efforts to get the state to boost the amount of money it spends on public schools. “We’re all coming together saying we’ve got to do better. Texas can do more. If not now, when? We are experiencing a Texas miracle. It will come to an end, and we’ve got to invest now to keep it going.”
Under the proposal, the state would reallocate $3.5 billion of existing funding and raise the state’s per student allotment from $5,140 per year to $5,800 per year.
In addition, the state would spend an extra $1.7 billion in new money per year.
That includes $900 million targeted for K-3rd grade students, and $800 million based on outcomes for districts that have shown improvements in third graders’ reading and in making sure high school students are ready for college, career and the military.
The money would also go towards merit pay for teachers who agree to work in what some lawmakers describe as “tough to teach schools.”
Some of the incentive money would continue to grow over a ten-year period.
Bender said, “Most of the numbers move us in a very positive direction. I think we have to advocate to get together to get more momentum. I’d like to see more new money into the system.”
This week, outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, told the San Antonio Express News, “We’re going to recommend a $5 billion increase in public education funding, that’s above enrollment growth, and should also be able to accomplish the Governor’s goal for property tax relief.”
Senator West said, “I applaud him because it shows the direction of the House on this particular issue. The Senate has to then make a determination as to what it wants to put in.”
Representative Shaheen said he’s not sure how much new money will be spent but said he is looking forward to the presumed new Republican House Speaker, Representative Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. “We have a new Speaker of the House who’s very open to some new, innovative ideas that the previous Speaker probably was not. Education is the priority this session. We’ll come up with those additional dollars.”
Both Shaheen and West believe the state will have more money to spend on public schools because the economy is booming and because the Rainy Day Fund will climb to about $12 billion by the end of this coming August.
Legislators will have to decide how much of it to use.
There is wide agreement on reducing property taxes, spending more on low-income students and those who are English language learners, and teacher merit pay.
Senator West said, “The Governor came to Dallas a couple of months ago and said he’d like to see some teachers make over $100,000. Guess what? I do too. I want to make certain we take those teachers and put them in those schools that need assistance and hopefully, we can continue to have them there to turn around schools and get students to the point where they need to be in terms of getting the educated and getting them past college-ready.”
Regarding recapture or Robin Hood, Bender said at the end of this June, the Plano ISD will have returned nearly $2 billion to the state since 1993.
She said during the past several years, the amount of money the district sent the state amounted to an extra $50 million each year, which she said will be unsustainable after another three years. “We will either be borrowing money from the bank to make payroll, we’ll be bankrupt and unable to provide a raise without significant, programmatic reductions.”
Bender said that would translate to cuts worth about 10 percent.
Shaheen said he would like to see recapture payments eventually end.
She and many others believe investing in today’s students who will eventually become the state’s future workforce. “We’re talking about workers to take the jobs that are needed to fill in Texas and we’re talking about consumers to purchase goods and services provided by them.”
Shaheen agreed. “The number one reason why these companies Toyota of North America, Liberty Mutual, Fed Ex Office, McKesson, who announced its moving to Texas from California, one of the big drivers is out workforce. So we have to get this right.”