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Bexar County school leaders are using a word they haven’t used in a while to describe their view of school finance reform: optimistic.
The day after the House Public Education Committee unanimously voted to forward House Bill 3, a $9 billion piece of legislation focused on school funding, area superintendents met in a closed-door meeting with San Antonio House representatives and Chairman of the House Public Education Committee Dan Huberty (R-Houston).
Calling House Bill 3 a “once-in-a-generation” piece of legislation, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) gathered local superintendents to give feedback on the bill before it goes to the House floor.
“Specifically, we are pretty excited about what House Bill 3 looks like at this present time,” North East Independent School District Superintendent Brian Gottardy said. “Not only are they raising the basic allotment considerably, but there is also some provisions in the bill that speaks about bilingual education, special education, [and weights for economically disadvantaged students.]”
House Bill 3, backed by more than 100 House lawmakers, would increase the basic allotment for every student by $890, provide funding for full-day pre-kindergarten for qualifying students, increase the minimum teacher salary schedule, and include money that can be used by districts to incentivize teachers to work at high-needs schools.
Huberty expects the bill to go before the full House floor in about a week and a half. From there, the bill would go to the Senate.
Earlier in March, the Senate unanimously passed its own $4 billion bill that would give across-the-board annual $5,000 raises to all teachers and librarians. Some have described this raise and House Bill 3 as being at odds.
Huberty told the Rivard Report that he is optimistic about working with the Senate to forge a school finance fix. In his 18 months on the select Texas Commission on Public School Finance, he worked closely with Senate Committee on Education Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood).
“There are going to be differences [when the final bill comes out], we know that,” Huberty said. “But there are so many things we agreed to from a Commission perspective that are in this bill and will continue to be in the bill, so I’m very bullish.”
Along with some other superintendents present Wednesday afternoon, Gottardy said he supports the House bill because he believes it gives more flexibility to districts.
He pointed out that the Senate bill leaves out “just about every other employee in the school district” other than teachers and librarians.
“Quite honestly, I’ve been in this business a long time – if we get the kind of money it looks like we would receive in House Bill 3, we would have money to give out very nice pay raises, which is something that we have not been able to do in my eight years [as superintendent,]” Gottardy said. “We have averaged about 1 percent pay raise over the last eight years and quite honestly that is not keeping up with the water bill, the electric bill, the food bill.”
Saul Hinojosa, superintendent of Somerset ISD in southwest Bexar County, agreed, saying he liked the flexibility the House bill language offered districts.
Edgewood ISD Superintendent Eduardo Hernandez singled out provisions of HB 3 he liked: the emphasis on funding full-day pre-kindergarten for qualifying students and extending funding for career and technical education to sixth- and seventh-grade students.
One of the additions in the legislation changes the way the state looks at and appropriates money for economically disadvantaged students. Under the bill, instead of giving funds to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, the state would look at poverty in a more nuanced way.
It would use a system developed in San Antonio ISD that breaks out poverty based on median household income, educational attainment, single-parent household rates, and rates of homeownership.
“What we are proud of is that we have been able to have some influence in this bill – when you look at the fact that [the House] is putting some additional weights for poverty, weights for [English language learners], even additional weights for dual language as the bill currently stands,” San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said. “It is aligned to districts like ours. We feel it is a great step in the right direction. It is not going to fix everything, but for us, we applaud the legislators for being willing to make such a significant investment in the state.”
While some school leaders had questions about details and language still being hammered out, most looked ahead, saying they were eager to see how the bill would be handled in the Senate.
Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee, described the mood as hopeful.
“If you assume and start with disagreement, that’s what you are going to get,” Bernal said. “There is so much here [in House Bill 3], and so much of it comes from the School Finance Commission, which had members from both chambers in it. There is no reason to think that we can’t continue that relationship.”