Texas Politics

Abbott signs school finance bill into law, featuring teacher raises, property tax cuts

Gov. Greg Abbott signed a sweeping school finance bill into law Tuesday that aims to infuse more money into Texas school districts.

Dubbed “The Texas Plan,” the legislation allocates about $6.5 billion more toward public education and $5.1 billion to cut school district taxes.

“You cannot overstate the magnitude of the law that I’m about to sign, because this is a monumental moment in public education history in the state of Texas,” Abbott said, surrounded by lawmakers in the gymnasium of Parmer Lane Elementary School in Austin. “We did something that was considered to be highly improbable. And that is to be able to transform public education in the state of Texas without a court order forcing us to do so.”

House Bill 3, which unanimously passed the House and Senate, was one of state leaders’ top priorities during the legislative session, along with property tax reform and the state’s budget. Abbott plans to sign the property tax legislation Wednesday morning.

“I know that every teacher who’s here, every principal, every superintendent, you start the school year and you set the bar high for your school. And that’s what we did this session,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said. “We set the bar very high for ourselves. And we said we were not going to fail.”

Leaders touted the “total teamwork” that made the legislation a reality, highlighting input from superintendents, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance and the work of lawmakers, such as Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, chairmen of the Senate and House Education Committees.

“There were a whole lot more spots on this road where they could have stopped and not gotten there,” House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said. “But never once did they consider that an option.”

Among the key provisions are teacher raises, property tax cuts and reductions in “Robin Hood” payments, where districts with high property values send money to the state to redistribute to districts with low property values.

The bill increases the state’s share of education funding from 38% to 45%, and provides about $5 billion in property tax cuts, lawmakers said. They estimate the bill will lower school property tax rates by an average of 8 cents per $100 valuation in 2020 and 13 cents 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.

“Taxpayers in the state of Texas have been burdened with an oppressive property tax system that takes too much money out of their pockets. This does a lot to reduce that burden,” Abbott said.

About $2 billion was allocated for pay raises for teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses, although individual school districts have discretion on how to dole out the money over the next two years.

A $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers championed earlier in the session by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was not included in the final legislation — a disappointment of many teacher groups — but money was allocated for districts to create merit-based incentive programs that are not required to be tied to standardized test results.

Maria Mazzei-Tovar, a fourth grade dual-language teacher at Parmer Lane Elementary School who attended the bill-signing ceremony, said she thinks uncoupling merit-based raises from test results is a positive step, because the results of standardized tests are “a group effort,” between students, teachers, counselors and the school.

The bill funds pre-kindergarten for low-income families, and raises the base funding per student from $5,140 to $6,160.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, is a former teacher herself, and said she remembers when then-Gov. George W. Bush pushed for proposals to have every third grader reading at grade level in the 1990s.

“We put a goal into place. We didn’t put a plan into place,” Nelson said. “This legislation has the road map to get there.”

While the legislation was applauded by state leaders, some lawmakers questioned how the state would continue to shoulder the costs in years to come.

A fiscal note analyzing the bill’s costs estimated that by fiscal year 2021, the plan would drain $11.6 billion from the state’s general revenue-related funds.

During the final days of the session, Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, said he opposed the bill previously not 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 at the time.

Nelson, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said she believes education will continue to remain a priority.

“If we keep the economy going with a well-trained workforce, then it will pay for itself many times over,” Nelson said.

Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia said in a statement that Democrats were to thank for the bill’s passage.

“House Bill 3 has become law because Democrats won in 2018 and we have Republicans looking over their shoulders,” Garcia said.

School districts are still working to determine the effect of the legislation.

Kristin Snively, a spokeswoman for Grapevine-Colleyville school district, wrote in an email that the district is waiting on clarification from the Texas Education Agency before the bill’s effect can be discussed.

Local Funding

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 affected 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 money through the Robin Hood school funding plan.
  • Southlake Carroll: $1.8 million, or $222 per student. The 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 money through the Robin Hood.
  • Grapevine-Colleyville: $3.2 million, or $245 per student. The district is scheduled to send $66 million to the state through Robin Hood, but that would drop to $48.9 million.
  • Hurst-Euless-Bedford: $6 million, or $258 per student. The district was not expected to give or receive money through Robin Hood.
  • Keller: $9 million, or $269 per student. Keller is scheduled to send nearly $5 million to the state through Robin Hood. Under this 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 money through Robin Hood.
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Tessa Weinberg is a state government for the Star-Telegram. Based in Austin, she covers all things policy and politics with a focus on Tarrant County. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.