When the Texas Legislature begins its next session in January, many of the top issues on the state’s agenda will have direct connections to people and events in Galveston County.
Hurricane Harvey. The May 18 Santa Fe High School shooting. School finance reform.
The issues that dominated the two years since the legislature last met will be among the top priorities during the five-month legislative session, state Sen. Larry Taylor, of Friendswood, said during a luncheon held Monday by the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce.
“This interim has been by far my busiest and most difficult,” Taylor said.
Taylor is the chairman of the Texas Senate Education Committee, and a member of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which has met for months to discuss ways the state might reform education funding.
Taylor spent hundreds of hours in committee meetings about school finance issues, he said. A report on the proposed reforms is due to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott next month, Taylor said.
“We’ve come up with some very good consensus things,” Taylor said. “We have a large number of school districts, so we have a lot of challenges.”
The legislature will work to “refocus” Texas education initiatives on achieving better outcomes, Taylor said. He also would support a program that would pay good teachers and administrators more to work at underperforming schools, he said.
State Rep. Greg Bonnen, of Friendswood, said the state’s budget will be tested by several priorities considered top issues during the session. He said he believed legislators would find a way to send money to communities hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, either by tapping the state’s emergency economic development fund or using other means.
“There will be roughly a billion dollars for Harvey relief, much of which will go to education,” Bonnen said. Some school districts faced massive repair costs, and smaller enrollments after the storm, limiting their ability to pay for recovery, Bonnen said.
“We will be seeking to make them whole,” he said.
Both Bonnen and Taylor spoke about the Santa Fe shooting, but didn’t name any legislation they were considering supporting related to it in the coming session.
A Texas Senate committee formed after the shooting, which left 10 dead and another 14 injured, recommended the state increase funding for mental health resources in schools, to train more teachers and school staff to carry weapons in schools, and to install more forms of security, such as metal detectors, in school buildings.
Newly elected state Rep. Mayes Middleton, of Wallisville, said he would support proposals to do away with the current method of school finance, which requires that certain “property rich” districts send some property tax revenues to other, less affluent districts.
“We’ve got to get rid of Robin Hood,” Middleton said. “That’s just a socialist redistribution of wealth program. It was a bad idea when it was passed and it’s a worse idea today.”
Middleton would also support more conservative legislation, including a state budget cap, a property tax cap and, possibly, an attempt to change rules about prayer in Texas schools, he said.
“We’ve got a new Supreme Court of the United States,” Middleton said. “We have conservative justices there that make up a majority. We need to test prayer in public schools again. We need to get prayer back in our public schools.”
The legislative session begins Jan. 8.