Texas Leaders Reach Multibillion-Dollar School Finance Deal

Gov. Greg Abbott, friend of the working manEXPAND
Gov. Greg Abbott, friend of the working man
Gage Skidmore
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Texas' big three — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — effectively ended the state's 2019 legislative session Thursday, announcing that the Legislature had reached a deal on school finance reform. With the agreement, the Legislature has settled its three biggest priorities for 2019: the state's two-year budget, property tax reform and school finance, which has been a problem around the state for decades.

"Your state Senate and your state House are committed to solving the biggest problems facing the people of Texas," Bonnen said. "We're here today to tell you that we've all been together, we've stayed together and, frankly, we're more together than we've ever been. The people of Texas are those who win."

At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Abbott, Patrick and Bonnen celebrated the broad strokes of the deal without releasing its specific text or funding sources:

Teachers are getting raises

They won't be quite as big as the $5,000 initially proposed in the Senate's school finance plan, but Patrick said Thursday that veteran teachers should expect around a $4,000 increase in total compensation, which will likely include increases to benefits in addition to salary bumps. School districts around the state will also get cash to give out to their best teachers. The raises will cost about $2 billion total, according to a summary of the deal distributed to reporters Thursday. 

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the reigning hegemon of the Texas Senate
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the reigning hegemon of the Texas Senate
Gage Skidmore

Full-day pre-K and other reform

Low-income Texas students will now have universal access to full-day pre-kindergarten, and the basic per-student allotment given to public schools is going up across the board. Additional funding from the plan will be directed to schools with higher percentages of under-served kids like dropouts and special-education students. Texas will also create a statewide "Do Not Hire" list to keep bad teachers out of the classroom.

Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen speaks to reporters in January.EXPAND
Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen speaks to reporters in January.
Texas House of Representatives

Property tax cuts

Texas property owners can expect $5 billion in school property tax reductions as a part of the plan, including cuts of $.08 per $100 valuation in 2020 and $.13 per $100 valuation in 2021. As a result, the state will cover 45% of the cost of K-12 public education in the state. It currently pays 38%.

Robin Hood reduction

Thanks to the increase in state education funding and the decrease in property taxes, the school finance plan will reduce state recapture of property tax funds from property-rich school districts by $3.6 billion, or 47% over the next two years.

"I'm dyslexic, but (47%) is almost half," Bonnen said. "That's big ... We can't have the false narrative that we will eliminate and end and no longer have recapture, because if we do that, we might as well wander over to the courthouse and wait to be sued."

Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, said he was generally pleased with the plan, although he said he won't know its full impact until the complete text is released.

"The details will be very important," he said.

He appreciates the flexibility the plan gives the district regarding teacher pay raises. The Senate's previous plan would have given a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise to every teacher and librarian in the state. The plan announced Thursday gives the district discretionary cash to give raises to employees as it sees fit — something that fits well with the district's pay-for-performance plan, he said.

Hinojosa said he was also pleased to see funding for full-day pre-K included in the final plan. Currently, the state funds only half-day pre-K for qualifying students, but the district offers a full-day program for those students and picks up the tab for the difference in cost. The plan allows districts that already offer full-day pre-K to put the new money toward any part of their early learning programs. Hinojosa said he plans to bring a proposal to the Dallas school board's June meeting to offer pre-K classes to students who don't qualify but have significant need.

Full-day pre-K programs offer a big improvement over half-day programs, Hinojosa said. More classroom time means students can get deeper into learning, he said. Full-day programs also mean parents don't have to worry about childcare for the half day their children aren't in school.

Ann Beeson, CEO of the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities, offered qualified praise for the deal.

"There’s no question that this is a step forward, and we support the bill and the increased investment in our schools. We applaud the increased compensation for teachers and other school personnel, support for low-income students and English language learners and early education," Beeson said. "We are disappointed that our state leaders prioritized property tax breaks over long-term, sustainable support for the public schools our kids deserve. The House version of HB 3 put $6 billion toward classrooms and $3 billion to tax breaks. This compromise bill flips the priorities, putting $4.5 billion toward classrooms and over $5 billion to tax breaks."

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' support for the plan was less qualified.

"As we've seen in Dallas, strategically investing more in our students pays dividends for years to come," Rawlings said. "Thanks to both the leadership in the Legislature and the yearlong work that preceded this legislative session through the Commission of Public School Finance, Texas should be proud of what HB 3 represents for all of our kids."

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