AUSTIN, Texas (Nexstar) — Lawmakers from the Texas House are proposing a $9 billion school finance reform plan that would increase funding for each student in school districts and lower school property tax rates by four cents statewide.
House Bill 3, coined The “Texas Plan,” would also establish a program to fund full-day pre-K for four-year-olds eligible for the program and dedicate money to school districts so they can help students with dyslexia or a related disorder. The legislation raises the minimum teacher salary schedule and funds a teacher quality program for school districts.
“I’m certain we’re going to have robust conversations with our colleagues on the other side of the rotunda as we go forward, but I want us to be very clear on this,” said House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty.
“This is not the competition of plans. This is school finance reform. This is what we have to do in the state of Texas. The courts have told us it is our responsibility to do this. If we don’t do this, we’re failing our kids.”
Huberty said none of the incentive programs for teachers are based on STAAR tests.
“We have a systematic failure in the state of Texas at some of these poorest performing schools and we’re letting these children fail,” Huberty said. “No more. We’re not going to allow that to happen.”
In late February, members of the Texas House Democratic Caucus released their own version of a school finance plan. Called the “Texas Kids First Plan,” the $14.5 billion proposal would require Texas to have full-day pre-K, increase per-student funding, and give more money to low-income students and students who are English-language learners or in special education.
“When it comes to educating our children, there is no Republican or Democrat plan,” House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said at the time. “There is only a Texas plan.”
This week, Senate lawmakers also passed Senate Bill 3, which gives $5,000 pay raises to teachers, including librarians. Bonnen drew a sharp comparison between Senate Bill 3 and House Bill 3 during a press conference Tuesday.
“What we’ve laid out today is a school finance plan,” said Bonnen. “I don’t know how you call a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise, period, nothing else, no discussion of reducing recapture, no discussion of reducing property taxes, no discussion of early childhood education, no discussion of absolutely incentivizing a teacher to go into a tougher school to teach. What we have is a plan and I’m proud of our plan and I think teachers are some of the smartest people in Texas and they are going to figure out the Texas House has a winning plan for teachers and students in Texas.”
Progressive think tank Centers for Public Policy Priorities praised House Bill 3, but also described some areas as “misguided or misplaced recommendations.”
The group says the plan creates a funding advantage for the state’s wealthiest districts and includes funding allocations that could provide opportunities to urban districts. But rural districts may not have the same access.
“This proposal outlines comprehensive and long overdue improvements that form a good start toward remodeling our school finance system,” Luis Figueroa, legislative and policy director, said in an emailed statement.
“We do have some notable concerns, however. As we make changes to how we fund our schools, it’s important to ensure access to resources is equitable across all districts and not based on a student’s zip code.”
Gov. Greg Abbott said lawmakers have an obligation to students, parents and teachers to fix school finance and improve the state’s public education system.
“We promised Texans that this session would be transformative and address big issues like school finance and property tax reform, and today’s announcement by Chairman Huberty is a big step in honoring that pledge,” Abbott said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Chairman Huberty, as well as Lieutenant Governor Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, Senator Taylor and all members to better fund our schools, increase teacher pay, and put our students on a pathway to greater academic success.”