State Politics

Texas lawmakers pass school finance plan, including teacher raises, property tax cuts

Texas governor announces school finance plans

Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.
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Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that lawmakers have balanced the state’s budget for the next two years, reformed the way Texas schools are funded and crafted ways to slow the growth of property taxes.

Texas lawmakers sent one of the governor’s top priorities to his desk Saturday: a sweeping school finance bill that puts more money in the hands of school districts locally and across the state.

House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 3, also referred to as the “Texas Plan,” calling it key legislation that includes $6.5 billion more for public education and $5.1 billion for tax cuts.

“We have truly transformed the Texas public school finance system, and schoolchildren in our great state will benefit from these changes for decades,” said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, and chairman of the House Public Education Committee.

“By doing this we will prepare them for a lifetime of prosperity. But it’s not just for the students of today. It’s for their kids and their descendants,” echoed Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen recently touted legislative agreement on this and two other key bills — Senate Bill 2, a property tax reform package that also passed Saturday night, and House Bill 1, the state’s budget.

“There has never been a more critical time to prioritize the needs of our students, and this bill shows that as leaders of this state, we follow through on our commitment to Texas’ children by proving greater opportunity for all,” Abbott said in a statement Saturday night.

The only bill lawmakers must pass each session is a balanced budget. Lawmakers are expected to sign off on the budget Sunday, the day before the session ends on Monday.

Some lawmakers still expressed worry about the plan’s cost to the state.

A fiscal note included in a conference committee version of the bill estimated that by fiscal year 2021, the plan would drain about $11.6 billion from general-revenue related funds. Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said he didn’t oppose the bill previously because of what it addressed, but because he wasn’t sure how much it would cost.

“But now that I do know what it’s going to cost, I am still concerned about it. As much as I like what we’re doing, I think we’re spending far more on it than what we should,” Hall said. “But it is what it is.”

Key provisions

Here’s a look at some of the measures in the lengthy bill:

Teacher raises: It’s hard to say what the average statewide raise will be for teachers because school districts will have a lot of discretion in how they give them out. Overall, around $2 billion over the next two years will fund raises for teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors. State leaders have said “veteran educators” would receive an about $4,000 in “total compensation” packages, which is expected to include retirement benefits. The bill also allows school districts to rate teachers and determine bonuses based on their performance, and doesn’t require merit pay to be based off of state standardized tests.

Property tax cuts: The state will provide about $5 billion in statewide property tax cuts. Leaders said school property tax rates will drop by an average of 8 cents per $100 valuation in 2020 and 13 cents per $100 valuation in 2021. For the owner of a home valued at $200,000 in the Fort Worth school district, the savings would be $140 in 2020 and $227.50 in 2021.

School programs: The cost of pre-kindergarten will be covered for low-income families. The base funding per student will grow from $5,140 to $6,160. The measure includes about $3.6 billion to reduce so-called Robin Hood payments.

“House Bill 3, the school finance bill, achieves a number of important goals, including increasing teacher pay, investing millions of new dollars in public schools, full day pre-k and significant property tax reform,” said state Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Fort Worth. “That’s why I was proud to support this significant legislation.”

Local funding

And here’s a look at how much more money some Tarrant County school districts would receive in 2020 under the House proposal — and if they’ll be impacted by the Robin Hood plan, according to HB 3 estimates.

Arlington: $28.5 million, or $527 per student. Arlington was not expected to give or receive dollars through the Robin Hood school funding plan.

Carroll: $1.8 million, or $222 per student. This district is scheduled to send $38 million to the state through Robin Hood, but that would drop to $28 million under this plan.

Fort Worth: $61.4 million, or $821 per student. Fort Worth was not expected to give or receive dollars through the Robin Hood school funding plan.

Grapevine-Colleyville: $3.2 million, or $245 per student. This district is scheduled to send $66 million to the state through Robin Hood, but that would drop to $48.9 million under this plan.

Hurst-Euless-Bedford: $6 million, or $258 per student. This district was not expected to give or receive dollars through the Robin Hood school funding plan.

Keller: $9 million, or $269 per student. Keller is scheduled to send nearly $5 million to the state through Robin Hood. Under this state plan that would drop to zero.

Kennedale: $1.5 million, or $501 per student. This district is scheduled to send $196,001 to the state through Robin Hood. That would drop to zero.

Mansfield: $8.6 million, or $254 per student. Mansfield was not expected to give or receive dollars through the Robin Hood school funding plan.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.

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