Texas lawmakers overhaul state education funding

Texas lawmakers overhaul state education funding

(Texas) New spending for Texas schools will include money for teacher raises, increase per-student base funding by about 20 percent, and fund free full-day pre-K for low-income 4-year-olds under a bill signed last week by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Among other changes, the bill will also reduce the amount of money wealthy districts must share in growing property tax collections with impoverished schools through the state’s recapture program, known as “Robin Hood.”

“The people of Texas demanded that we take bold action to fix our state's broken school finance system, which is why I made school finance reform an emergency item this legislative session,” Abbott said in a statement. “This law provides additional funding to recruit and retain the best teachers for the most challenging classrooms, employ effective strategies to better educate our students, and provide lasting property tax relief to homeowners.”

Lawmakers said at the bill signing ceremony that the moment had been a long time coming. In 2011, a lawsuit was brought against the state challenging the school funding formula in the wake of the Legislature’s decision to cut $5.4 billion in public education funding from the state budget while schools were being asked at the same time to implement new academic standards.

A ruling in 2016 by the Texas Supreme Court ultimately upheld the existing funding formula as constitutional, but told legislators that it was in dire need of revision.

In response, the bill signed last week–HB 3–includes about $6.5 billion in new public education spending.

There is now money for districts that want to start merit pay programs, giving bonuses of between $3,000 and $12,000 to their higher-rated teachers.

The average salary of a teacher in Texas is $53,167—well under the national average of $60,483, according to the National Education Association. The biggest pay gap, however, is among teachers working in rural areas where salaries lag by tens of thousands of dollars.

HB 3 contains funding to help high-needs and rural school districts to incentivize teachers to work there.

The $11.6 billion school finance measure also devotes $5.1 billion to lowering property taxes.

Legislative analysts estimated that the bill would lower tax rates by an average of 8 cents per $100 valuation in 2020 and 13 cents in 2021–which would mean a tax cut of $200 for the owner of a $250,000 home in 2020 and $325 in 2021. The bill also implements a 2.5 percent property tax cap starting in 2021, which will result in an average tax rate reduction of 13 cents over the next two years.

Among other things, the bill also includes spending to allow full-day pre-Kindergarten for students in poverty, and requires all elementary school principals and teachers in kindergarten through third grade be trained on science-based reading instruction by 2021.

Abbott called the passage of HB 3 a monumental moment in public education history in the state of Texas.

“We did something that was considered to be highly improbable, and that is to be able to transform public education in the state of Texas without a court order forcing us to do so,” Abbott said at the bill signing ceremony. “This one law does more to advance education in the state of Texas than any law that I have seen in my adult lifetime in the state of Texas.”

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