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Texas school boards group presents new plan for education finance

A coalition representing Texas school boards unveiled its plan to fix the state's school finance system Friday.

The proposed system would increase equity among districts, primarily by providing more money to poorer ones, officials from the Texas Association of School Boards said. The plan was unanimously approved by the association's 44-member board, which includes representatives from Fort Worth, Arlington, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and other districts statewide.

Association officials said the plan would cost an additional $1.5 billion over two years, depending on how it is implemented.

"This makes it possible to change the distribution model of school finance without there being either a lot of cost to the state or a lot of districts being adversely affected," said Jacqueline Lain, the group's associate executive director for governmental relations. Lain noted that the plan falls far short of addressing all the inequities of school finance.

"But we take one step at a time," she said.

The current school funding system has two tiers. In Tier I, districts receive money on a per-student basis. That "target revenue" is based on property taxes and state funding, but it largely reflects what schools received in 2005-06 and varies widely across the state.

For example, Fort Worth has about 80,000 students and has its target revenue set at $4,764 per student. The Austin school district, which has similar student demographics, has target revenue of $5,756, so it can raise about $93 million more than Fort Worth.

In Tier II, districts receive a "guaranteed yield" on each penny levied above $1 in their maintenance and operation property tax rate. The state sets a minimum amount, which also varies by district, that schools should receive for each penny of the tax. If revenue falls short of that, the state provides money to bring the district to the minimum.

The school board group's plan would simplify the system by distributing money based on a district's weighted enrollment multiplied by its tax rate and then by the same guaranteed yield on every penny of the tax rate. The association proposes a yield of $51.50 but would increase it annually so that within six years, 85 percent of Texas students would attend a school district funded through a single-tier system.

Group officials said the proposal would increase each district's per-student funding by at least $30 and no more than $200.

Cindy Powell, associate superintendent of finance for the Arlington school district, said she is hopeful. She said it appears that the plan would boost Arlington's funding, as the district is on the lower end of target revenue, at $4,957 per student.

"They are really trying to bring the bottom up," she said. "That, to me, is a huge benefit that I see."

Birdville Superintendent Stephen Waddell was at the school board convention in Houston on Friday. District spokesman Mark Thomas said officials would study the proposal in detail.

"I hope that it does give an opportunity to address some of the inequity issues in the current funding plan," he said.

This is the first time the school board group has presented a finance plan. Officials said they did so now because many districts are dipping into savings and cutting staff and programs as they struggle under the current system.

Any changes could be difficult to push through the legislative session, because the state faces a multibillion-dollar shortfall.

Online: www.tasb.org

Staff writer Jessamy Brown contributed to this report.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

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