Texas schools facing loss of funding after this year’s legislative session might get a small cushion to soften the blow during a special session set to start Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday called for $150 million to be set aside as relief for school districts that have over the past 10 years received funding through the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction program.
He called the $150 million a “bridge” meant to help school districts hit hardest by the loss of the program — which was scheduled to end this year and wasn’t extended — adjust to its end over the next two years.
“That plan has been in the works for a long time, a decade, that that funding would eventually go away,” Patrick said. “We were all aware and it is going to have to end.”
The program, known as ASATR, was created in 2006 as a way to provide relief to school districts that were set to lose funding after legislators implemented a statewide tax cut. It was designed to end after 10 years.
However, during the legislative session, some school districts, including Texas City ISD, lobbied for the program to continue. The district said death of the program meant an $11 million hit to its revenue.
The program was designed to give school districts a funding based at where their property tax revenues were in 2006. If tax collections dropped below the 2006 level, the state would send relief money to make up for it.
The Texas City district has received as much as 30 percent of its annual revenue from ASATR funding at times over the past 10 years — although the payments fluctuated wildly over the years. In 2010, the district received $13.2 million from ASATR. In 2013, it received $186,000.
State Sen. Larry Taylor will submit the education funding bill for the special session, Patrick said. Taylor, who is the chair of the Senate Education Committee, had not filed a bill by Friday afternoon.
During an interview Friday, Taylor said the $150 million would be included in a bill that also proposes the creation of a commission on school finance, which would set out to come up with workable school finance reform fixes to be presented to legislators in 2019.
“Ideally, we’ll work from the ground up,” Taylor said. “The Supreme Court has laid out the parameters our system has to meet and up to now, we’ve done that on a piecemeal basis over 40-some-odd years.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott did not list reforming school funding, or preserving ASATR, among his priorities for the special session. Abbott’s stated agenda includes a call for pay raises for teachers — a plan for which Patrick also pitched on Thursday — as well as forming a commission on school finance reform and creating a school choice voucher program for special needs students.
Taylor, who proposed multiple pieces of voucher legislation during the regular session, said his special session school finance bill would not include a provision for vouchers. It could come in separate legislation, he said.
The ASATR provision of his proposal is meant to help school districts that were giving “maximum effort,” by doing things like increasing taxes, and still falling short of their 2006 funding levels, Taylor said. Texas City is one of those districts, he said.
“You have some real hardships out there, through no fault of their own,” Taylor said. “They are going to suffer some pretty severe consequences.”
The bridge funding is meant to help until legislators devise a new school finance plan, he said.
The Texas City district did receive some extra funding during the regular session, from a bill that would send $17 million to the district over the next five years. The money is meant to allay some of the costs incurred by the district when it absorbed the former La Marque Independent School District in 2016.
District officials say former La Marque ISD properties are in need of more than $40 million in repairs.
Texas City district officials could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
The special session begins Tuesday. It will last for 30 days. If Abbott is not satisfied by the work done during the session, he could call for another one. In a statement issued after Patrick’s news conference, Abbott said he supported Patrick’s efforts to pass all of his special session agenda items.
“My office has been working with lawmakers in both the Senate and House these past six weeks, and if these items do not get passed, it will be for lack of will, not for lack of time,” Abbott said.