Years of lobbying and demand for change in the way the state funds education will come to a head over the next week. The 86th Texas Legislative Session ends May 27, and state lawmakers are negotiating a final version of House Bill 3, legislation meant as comprehensive funding reform.
But in the final days and hours before the end of the legislative session, much remains undecided about school finance.
“I think this session has been a step in the right direction,” said Greg Smith, superintendent of Clear Creek Independent School District. “There’s no doubt in my mind that all the representatives are working in good faith, and with additional funding, to try to do two things — help school finance reform, and also looking at the tax base in conjunction. You can’t do one without the other.”
Hours after speaking with The Daily News on Thursday, Smith joined a group that included almost all of the Galveston County superintendents in sending a letter to local legislators, advocating for certain possible provisions in House Bill 3.
“Local discretion is going to be the key operative term here,” Smith said. “We’re hoping that the more money they have floating through basic allotment and the more decisions that can be made on the local level, the better off we’ll be.”
Thursday’s letter to the legislators highlights five specific issues local educators hope a school finance bill addresses — staff compensation, basic allotment, property tax relief, which year’s taxable values to use and full-day prekindergarten funding.
Many of the items aren’t new topics. More and more school boards across the county have been forced to adopt deficit budgets in recent years as they struggle with myriad issues.
But Galveston Superintendent Kelli Moulton on Friday criticized a relatively new proposal to use current-year taxable values to determine budgets.
“Galveston ISD supports using prior year values to determine revenue projections for budget preparation,” Moulton said. “Using current year values restricts Galveston ISD’s ability to efficiently staff and plan for each school year.”
Essentially, changing from prior-year taxable values to current-year values would save the state about $1.8 billion per year, but that would be shifted onto local school districts, officials said.
That change would hurt districts that make payments to the state as part of the so-called Robin Hood funding program, which “recaptures” local property tax revenue and sends it to other districts.
Recapture is part of state legislation created in 1993. Under the law, tax revenue for maintenance and operation from property-wealthy school districts, such as Galveston and Texas City, is taken and distributed to property-poor school districts.
Galveston in its 2018-2019 budget allocated more than $26 million for recapture payments, documents show.
Two other major issues surrounding House Bill 3 concern a proposed $5,000 raise for teachers and performance-related pay, Smith said.
While teachers do deserve a raise, if legislators reduced the amount to about $1,800, then districts could apply the raise to other staff, such as counselors, nurses, custodians and others, Smith said.
Meanwhile, there’s a concern about performance-related pay increases because such a system overly relies on how students perform on standardized tests, Smith said.
Thursday’s letter to legislators also calls for an increase in districts’ basic allotment, which is the amount a district receives per student and is calculated based on its average daily attendance numbers.
The district officials also ask legislators to maintain a 2:1 ratio for student finance reform to property tax relief, which would work with the current $6.3 billion earmarked for school finance reform and $2.7 for property tax relief, according to the letter.
Finally, officials at the county’s districts call on legislators to pursue funding for full-day prekindergarten programs — something education leaders have long asked for.