“School finance reform: The time is now.”
That is the message state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the new speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, put on Styrofoam cups he stocked in a lounge for lawmakers.
“You will be reminded every day of our goal,” he told his colleagues.
It is clear from remarks made not only by Bonnen, but also Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, that school finance reform will be the top priority of the 86th Legislature.
“We have 6 million kids in Texas in school, and the future of Texas depends on their education,” said Lt. Gov Dan Patrick, who serves as president of the Senate.
The legislative session, which began this month and wraps up in May, is expected to not only tackle school funding, but also its main funding mechanism: property taxes.
In Texas, state funds for education supplement local property tax collections. As property values have soared in recent years and additional operating funds have been generated locally, the state has simply reduced its own contribution to public education and allocated the savings to other parts of the budget.
In the 1980s, the state provided two-thirds of the cost of operating Texas schools. Ten years ago, the split was closer to 50-50. This year, the state is funding only 38 percent of the total cost of operating public schools, requiring that school districts increasingly rely on local property tax dollars. Elected leaders have vowed to change that and simultaneously provide property tax relief.
Both the Texas House and Senate have proposed two-year budgets that would invest more in public education. After accounting for increased property tax collections, the House proposal would allocate more than $7 billion in additional funding for public schools beyond the dollars slated for enrollment growth, while the Senate would invest an additional $4.3 billion, including funds for a $5,000 raise for every full-time teacher in the state. The roughly $3 billion difference between the two funding proposals, as well as other details, still need to be hammered out.
It’s too early to say what percentage of extra funds allocated by the Legislature would go to support schools and what percentage would be used for property tax relief. The proposed budgets are dependent on lawmakers passing a law that slows the growth of local property taxes and also reduces recapture payments made under Chapter 41 of the Texas Education Code, more commonly referred to as Robin Hood. Under that system, taxes collected in property-wealthy districts like Frisco ISD are redistributed to support schools in property-poor districts.
“It is time for Texas to deliver on real education reform,” Gov. Abbott said Tuesday in his inaugural address. “The State must invest more in public education.”
The long-awaited fix to the Texas school finance system may finally be coming.
“This is the time for our community to really engage in this process and pay attention to what is happening in Austin,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mike Waldrip. “Any changes that the state makes to public education funding is likely to impact our district, teachers and students for decades to come.”
Frisco ISD will closely follow the legislative session and bills related to priorities in the areas of funding, accountability and social and emotional awareness. The District will share updates via the website, social media and other communications channels.