AUSTIN, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Texas lawmakers wrapped up the 86th Legislative Session Monday after approving a school finance reform bill that Republicans and Democrats have described as “transformative.”
On Monday, Governor Greg Abbott called it, “An extremely successful session that will benefit all Texans.”
The Governor praised the legislature for injecting an additional $11.6 billion into public schools.
That includes $6.5 billion for boosting funding per student from $5,140 to $6,160, providing full-day Pre-K for those four year old children who are eligible, and salary increases for lawmakers teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses for those with five or more years experience.
It will also fund enrollment growth for an additional 65,000 students.
The school finance reform bill HB3, approved by lawmakers earlier this holiday weekend, also includes $5.1 billion for reducing property taxes for schools.
Governor Abbott said it will lower property taxes eight cents per $100 valuation in 2020, which is about a $200 break on a $250,000 home.
In 2021, property taxes will drop by 13 cents per $100 valuation. “We wanted to accomplish a lot. We wanted to change the course and trajectory of education funding in the state of Texas and we did exactly that.”
As part of the bill, school districts will not be allowed to increase property tax revenues by more than 2.5% a year.
The Governor said this is not temporary relief. “This is going to be lasting relief for property taxpayers.”
Lt. Governor Dan Patrick said in a news release, “This session wasn’t about any individual leader, it was about focusing on the top priorities of the people of Texas — property tax reform, paying teachers more and education — and not quitting until we reached that goal. We changed a century of education policy in 140 days.”
Democratic State Senator Royce West of Dallas said, “When you put in $11 billion into the education system, you’ve got to make certain that you can find the dollars on a sustainable basis in order to continue that plus deal with the inflationary factor.”
The bill will boost state funding of education from around 35% to 45%, and Senator West said, “We’re hoping to get up to 45%-50% with the legislation that passed.”
Governor Abbott said, “Part of the architecture of this will maintain the state’s level of funding. In fact, the way it works, the state’s level of funding actually could go up.”
SB3 will also reduce recapture or “Robin Hood” payments by nearly half.
Those are payments property-wealthy school districts make to help property-poor districts.
The legislature also approved SB2, which caps property tax revenue increases to 3.5% for cities and counties unless voters approve a higher rate.
Community college and hospital districts won’t be able to raise property tax revenues by more than eight percent each year without triggering an election.
Senator West opposed the bill saying it hurts the ability of city and county leaders to do their jobs. “To the extent they’re not responding to the tax needs of citizens, they’ll be ousted.”
The state is also spending $1.1 billion to boost the Teacher Retirement System.
While retired teachers won’t receive cost of living adjustments, the legislature approved a 13th check of $2,000 for each retiree.
The state and school districts will contribute more to the system as well so that it will pay off its debts within 31 years.
West said, “We’ve made it actuarily sound with the injection of over half a billion dollars into it. So we did good work.”
He credited active and retired teachers with keeping the issue top of mind.
Texas lawmakers also approved legislation aimed at making schools safer and that will create a mental health consortium to improve access for treatment and programs for students.