AUSTIN, Texas — After weeks of waiting, the Texas Senate unveiled its nearly 300-page plan for tackling school finance and property tax reform.
Lawmakers discussed the plan in committee on Thursday, and while both chambers agree they want to boost classroom funding and provide property tax relief, they continue to differ in how to divvy out the dollars with just weeks to go in the legislative session.
Finance Plan includes:
- Raising the base funding per student
- Providing full-day pre-K
- Teacher pay raises
With a statewide average on third-grade reading at just 40 percent, lawmakers know some Texas students are struggling. The chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Larry Taylor, wants to tie some school district funding to test scores, arguing it will incentivize districts to better prepare students academically.
It’s a controversial issue the House removed from its version, but the Senate has slipped back in. Like the House plan, the Senate version includes: raising the base funding per student, providing full-day pre-K, and teacher pay raises. But the pay raise issue has been divisive between the two chambers.
The Senate’s plan includes a $5,000 across-the-board raise for teachers and librarians. The House wants to give districts more flexibility with the additional funding.
Chairman Taylor said his plan also compensates high-achieving, low-income school districts at a higher rate.
“You know a student that’s in a school that’s 80 percent plus low-income, is in a different situation than a student that’s in a 10 percent low-income district. So, our compensatory education form is going to be like a spectrum,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood.
Kelli Moulton, Galveston ISD Superintendent, said she likes the bill, with one exception: in years past, she’s created her district budget based on property tax values from the previous year. This plan would change that, forcing her to guess what the current year’s revenue would be.
“What if the value comes in very, very high and I’ve not budgeted for that. I’ve lost opportunities to serve kids in that current year,” said Moulton.
But she said that won’t keep her from supporting the bill because she knows her students’ educations are at stake.
“We don’t want to walk away from the table on a small thing,” said Moulton.
The Senate’s plan also attempts to address some concerns about the STAAR standardized test by breaking the test down into smaller exams and implementing a pilot test to eventually replace STAAR. Sen. Taylor also said it would be totally digital in the next three to five years, and tests on Mondays would be prohibited.
Click the video link above to watch our interview with Monty Exter, a senior lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.