AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — The Texas Legislature approved a sweeping bipartisan school finance bill that brings an extra $4.5 billion into classrooms and pours $1.6 billion toward teacher raises, marking lawmakers’ latest attempt to overhaul how the state pays for its troubled public school system.
The House and Senate on Saturday night also passed a property tax reform package, another of Texas Republicans’ top-stated policy priorities for the legislative session.
The sweeping changes now head to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
The GOP majority vowed to tackle a school finance fix after losing more than a dozen seats in the 2018 midterms — a change in course that follows repeated clashes with public schools over slashed budgets and appeals to religious and private campuses.
In 2016, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the system that funds schools for more than 5 million students was deeply flawed but also minimally constitutional. Lawmakers had promised to deliver on the issue this year.
Republican Rep. Dan Huberty called the school finance measure, which he sponsored, “a roadmap for the future of Texas” and a true collaboration between the chambers and the GOP leaders.
“We never lost sight of our goals, of … what’s right for the students and the people of the state,” Huberty said.
Some lawmakers in both chambers expressed concern over how the state would afford the changes in years to come.
Huberty’s proposal would also send another $5 billion to schools for property tax relief. Texas has no state income tax, meaning schools rely heavily on local property tax revenue.
A portion of the bill would mandate that school districts earmark 30% of their added funding to provide wage increases to full-time teachers, librarians, school counselors and nurses. School district officials would have flexibility in allocating another 25% in raises to any full-time employees. The final measure also includes a merit pay program that could compensate teachers the district considers exceptional even more.
Lawmakers who worked on the new spending plan say the raises amount to roughly $4,000 for teachers with more than five years in the classroom.
But some education groups have expressed disappointment over the bill’s increased focus on property tax relief rather than classroom dollars. Teacher salaries in Texas are currently about $7,000 below the national average, according to the National Education Association.
The Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The school finance measure would increase annual, per-student funding by $1,020 to $6,160, while boosting funds for children who need extra instruction to learn English. It would fund full-day pre-kindergarten for low-income students and provide further funding to better educate dyslexic students.
The bill looks to adjust the current “Robin Hood” system by reducing recapture payments by 47% over the next two years. That system is meant to force school districts in wealthy areas to share some local property tax revenue with those in poorer parts of the state.
The other bill approved Saturday night wouldn’t reduce property taxes, but would require voter approval if local governments raise rates 3.5% or more. Local governments can currently raise rates by as much as 8% without an election.
Disagreements over both issues during the 2017 legislative session left lawmakers unable to pass a measure that would have pumped $1.6 billion into state classrooms — despite bipartisan support.
A budget bill is not yet signed but is expected to reach the governor’s desk before lawmakers adjourn Monday until 2021.
Abbott released two statements Saturday night after the passing of the school finance bill and property tax reform.
On passage of House Bill 3:
“In my inaugural address I said that this will be the session we enact historical school finance reform by putting more money into the classroom, paying our teachers more, reducing recapture and cutting property taxes. Tonight, without a court order, the legislature did just that by passing one of the most transformative educational bills in recent Texas history.
“There has never been a more critical time to prioritize the needs of our students, and this bill shows that as leaders of this state, we follow through on our commitment to Texas’ children by proving greater opportunity for all.”
On passage of Senate Bill 2:
“For far too long, Texans have seen their property taxes skyrocket as they are reduced to tenants of their own land. Tonight, the Texas legislature took a meaningful step in reinforcing private property rights by reining in the power of local taxing entities, providing more transparency to the property tax process, and enacting long awaited appraisal reforms.
I thank the leadership in both the House and Senate for their work on behalf of Texas taxpayers. As Governor, I look forward to signing this bill into law for all Texans to ensure the Lone Star State remains the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a statement Saturday night, praising the passage of House Bill 3.
“House Bill 3 is a landmark school finance reform bill that will be transformative for Texas and will help ensure that public schools in our state become number one in the nation. Along with Senate Bill 2, House Bill 3 provides over $7 billion in property tax relief for Texas voters and includes a $4,000 average pay raise for veteran teachers, librarians, school counselors and nurses. It will also ensure that our schools utilize cutting edge strategies that finally make sure that all our students can read and succeed.”
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)