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Texas House Wants to Tackle School Finance During Session

Nathan Bernier/KUT
Texas' school finance system, which a district court judge ruled is unconstitutional, is currently tangled up in the appeals process at the State Supreme Court.

In a somewhat surprising move, the state House Public Education committee Chair announced Wednesday that the house will try to tackle the state’s school finance system this legislative session.

The school finance system, which a district court judge ruled is unconstitutional, is currently tangled up in the appeals process at the Texas Supreme Court. Many people familiar with education politics in Texas believed the legislature wouldn’t make any decisions before the court ruled. But at a press conference this morning, House Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock said the state must act now.

“We had to ask the fundamental question, ‘Do you do what’s right for the state of Texas and children of Texas, or do you try to play lawyer and out guess the courts?’ And we decided what was right for the state of Texas,” said Aycock.

The House budget already allocated $2.2 billion toward education on top of what it’s legally supposed to spend per student. But this plan would also add an additional $800 million from general revenue for public schools.

“They’re not interested in dealing with a bunch of reform fads that seem to be going over in the Senate side. Instead, they want to make sure the school finance system works for every child and that is a very positive note for public ed[ucation],” says Brock Gregg with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Lawmakers said more details would become available in the coming days, but they did say they would try to soften recapture payments for districts. Under the current system, districts that are considered property-wealthy must give some property taxes back to the state, which helps fund districts that are considered property-poor. If the system remains the same, Austin ISD will return around $300 million back to the state, which will put the district in an even bigger budget hole.

Lawmakers also said they want to update the cost of education index, which is the baseline funding, and update funding formulas that haven’t been update for more than two decades, including transportation funding for students.

The question remains: Will the Senate support the plan?

“That’s the $60,000 question.,” said Gregg. “It’s not clear and not worth it to speculate."

So far, the Senate has allocated $1.2 million toward public education, which education advocates say is not enough. House lawmakers said they hadn’t spoken to their Senate counterparts yet. 

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