Funding reform bill leads Texas leg action

Funding reform bill leads Texas leg action

(Texas) A sweeping overhaul of the school funding system won approval last week from the Legislature’s lower house with bipartisan support, but still faces an uncertain future in the state Senate.

House Bill 21 commits an additional $1.8 billion to schools above enrollment growth while also simplifying the funding process and installing new equity between districts.

“While our system is lawful, it is awful,” quipped Houston Republican Rep. Dan Huberty, the bill’s author, in reference to a ruling last year by the Texas Supreme Court that upheld the existing funding formula as constitutional but in dire need of revision.

Huberty said that his bill improves and simplifies public school funding in Texas and takes the first step, for the first time, to reduce the byzantine “Robin Hood” revenue system, where wealthy districts must share a growing amount of property tax money with the state’s impoverished schools.

The new money, which will be divided among almost every school statewide, increases per student funding by $210 to a total of $5,350.

Huberty explained during floor debate that the increase is possible through the simplification of the formula—especially by rolling the high school, transportation, and staff allotments into the basic allotment.

The bill also creates a $200 million grant program to help districts that relied on a state property tax reimbursement pool.

A lawsuit filed in 2011 was brought against the state challenging the school funding formula in the wake of the Legislature’s decision to cut $5.4 billion in public education funding from the state budget while schools were being asked at the same time to implement new academic standards.

Although the bill passed with bipartisan support, it is not clear whether the leadership of the state Senate—also Republicans—will follow suit, nor if Gov. Greg Abbott is onboard.

While the GOP controls both the legislature and the governor’s office, power sharing has not come easily in Austin. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick—who controls the state Senate—are at odds over the state budget and Abbott has been critical of some of the proposals that lawmakers are trying to bring to his desk.

In terms of high-profile school bills, the Senate’s focus has been new voucher plans that would offer state funding to students attending private and religious schools.

Other bills of interest in Texas:

SB 1005 allows the use of SAT or ACT exams as secondary exit-level assessment instruments for graduation purposes.

SB 529 creates a new definition for “universal design for learning,” which means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice. The bill requires the state board to set out more specific rules about what educators must know and understand, especially in regard to students with disabilities. It also requires educator preparation programs to use a universal design for learning framework that integrates inclusion for all students, including students with disabilities, and evidence-based instruction and intervention strategies throughout coursework, clinical experiences, and student teaching.

SB 1883 removes the state board’s authority to review commissioner decisions on charter authorizations and allows charters who are denied authorization after failing the application process by not more than 10 percent to appeal to the commissioner. The bill also prohibits the commissioner from allowing a charter to expire or revoking a charter if at least one of the years the commissioner considers is not rated properly.

SB 1886 creates a new office of inspector general for the Texas Education Agency responsible for the investigation, prevention, and detection of criminal misconduct and wrongdoing and of fraud, waste, and abuse in the administration of public education by school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, regional education service centers, and other local education agencies in this state. 

HB 1057 establishes three more accountability indicators under the non-test category for evaluating the performance of high school: (1) the percentage of students who have completed an international baccalaureate course; (2) the percentage of students who have received credit by examination; (3) the percentage of students who have been promoted to higher grade levels than the grade levels to which the students would ordinarily be assigned; and (4) the percentage of students who have earned a diploma after not more than three years of high school attendance.

HB 1336 requires a district’s annual financial management report to include a description of the district's total expenses related to administering state assessments.  

HB 2614 makes school district administration of college preparatory assessments in eighth and tenth grade optional, not mandatory. more