Texas House Proposes Massive Increase for Public School Funding

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Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / Texas Tribune

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen presides over his first votes as speaker.

As Texas’ Republican leadership calls for property tax cuts and a school finance overhaul, the Texas House on Monday pitched a bold proposal: Pump roughly $7 billion more state funds into public schools – but only if lawmakers can satisfactorily overhaul the school finance system to slow the growth of property taxes.

Budget documents published Monday evening show the House has offered up a whopping 17 percent increase in K-12 public education funding so long as lawmakers achieve a few lofty goals in reforming how the state pays for public schools: Reduce the state’s reliance on property taxes, decrease the need for the unpopular Robin Hood system that requires property-wealthy school districts to subsidize poorer ones, and maintain an equitable system of school finance, as required by the state Constitution.

Counting all sources of funding – including local property taxes, state revenue and federal dollars – the state’s public education budget would grow to about $70.6 billion in the two-year cycle from 2020 to 2021, according to a Legislative Budget Board summary of the proposed House budget. That’s an increase of 16.7 percent from the previous two-year budget cycle, when the state spent about $60.5 billion on public schools.

The unveiling of the House’s budget priorities comes less than a week after State Rep. Dennis Bonnen was named leader of the Capitol’s lower chamber; the Angleton Republican has not yet named his top lieutenants for the 2019 legislative session, including who will chair the powerful, budget-writing Appropriations Committee.

Bonnen has joined Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in calling for a school finance overhaul and property tax reductions, but Monday’s proposal marks the first time a member of the state’s Republican leadership has attached a price tag to those reforms.

“Speaker Bonnen has made it explicitly clear that the House’s top priority is to accomplish meaningful school finance reform this session,” spokeswoman Cait Meisenheimer said in a written statement. “He looks forward to working with lawmakers to increase the state’s share of funding for public education and alleviate a growing property tax burden, while ensuring the Legislature remains a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.”

The state is forecasted to have about 8.1 percent more funding available to spend over the next, two-year budget cycle. The House’s proposed budget would also withdraw $633 million out of the state savings account, called the Economic Stabilization Fund, to pay for retired teachers’ pensions, school safety improvements and disaster-relief programs.

That account, also known as the rainy day fund, has grown to a record level thanks to booming oil and gas production. Even after the House’s proposed $633 million withdrawal, the fund’s balance is projected to reach $14.7 billion in 2021.

The budget recommends spending $109 million on school safety, which lawmakers have discussed as a priority item since the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting near Houston left 10 dead. Included in school safety funding would be about $12 million for children’s mental health programs.

Notably, the House budget decreases state funding for health care and human services by about 3.2 percent. Education and health care make up the vast majority of state spending.

Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, would see a decrease of $1.4 billion in state funds, for example.

The Senate is expected to unveil its own budget proposal on Tuesday. The state budget is the only item lawmakers are required to pass by the end of the legislative session in May. Lawmakers will reconcile the two chambers’ proposals before voting on a final budget near the end of session.

4 thoughts on “Texas House Proposes Massive Increase for Public School Funding

  1. What is being proposed to solve the funding problems for the Teacher Retirement System? Consistently, the state has paid less to fund it than they have required teachers to pay. Therefore, it has been underfunded for almost two decades now. The result is that all of your teachers who are retired have not had a pay raise for almost 20 years! Plus, almost all of them have ONLY their teaching pension to live on, since most school districts do not participate in the Social Security program. Since teaching salaries have consistently been low in Texas and lower than persons working outside the education system anywhere and the pensions for retirees are generally only about 60% of their salary they had during their last few years of working, the situation is becoming desperate for many retired teachers. Imagine what it would be like to try to be living today on 60% of a salary that teachers were making about 20 years ago in Texas!

  2. Provided the state gives districts more funding the state needs to put better controls on district spending.

    Most municipal, state, federal and public school districts are not proactive about maintaining their facilities and run into deferred maintenance. This can result in turning on a building’s A/C to run nonstop because it will not come back on if turned off. Inefficient systems and practices lead to increased utility expenditures above what would be normal costs.

    They also lack positive controls of lighting and irrigation systems. Just look at the school districts that test those big stadium lights before every game and allow their coaches to water whenever they want, even if it is raining or outside of their restricted time or if the grass doesn’t need the water it is just that coaches are available to push the button to turn it on.

    Maybe we need a better way to get rid of board members than currently outlined by Texas Education Code. We need a petition and a recall election.

  3. More funding for schools and lower my property taxes? I’m not a Republican but this is a Republican effort I can get behind and show my appreciation using my vote! If property taxes go up any more, either due to inflated county appraisals or tax rate increases, more people can be squeezed out of their home due to taxes.

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