Texas governor announces school finance plans
Top Texas leaders announced Thursday that they’ve hashed out differences and reached long-sought agreements in plans for teacher raises, property taxes and school funding — with just days to spare before the end of the 86th legislative session.
Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced during a press conference on the grounds of the governor’s mansion 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.
Both the House and the Senate must sign off on the plans before the session ends Monday.
“We addressed and solved challenges that have plagued our state for decades,” Abbott said.
“We have had the Super Bowl of legislative sessions,” Patrick added.
They said many of the details are in hundreds of pages of legislation that will be printed and distributed to lawmakers. Among the highlights they mentioned, some which were included in fliers handed out:
Property taxes: 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. The homestead exemption would double to $50,000, starting in the 2021 fiscal year, saving the average homeowner about $325 a year, according to an analysis by the Texas House Democratic Caucus.
Revenue caps: The state will cap property tax revenue at 3.5 percent for cities and counties and 2.5 percent for schools. The goal, they say, is to slow the future growth of property tax bills. Cities, counties and schools could always raise more revenue from property taxes with voter approval.
Teacher raises: Around $2 billion will go toward raises for teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors. “Veteran educators” would receive an about $4,000 in “total compensation” packages. Educators will see an average increase of $510 in retirement benefits through House Bill 3 and each school employee will see about $412 in average new retirement benefits through Senate Bill 12. The lawmakers did not provide details. State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, did note that SB 12 “will make the pension fund actuarially sound and provide up to a $2,000 supplemental 13th check to retirees.”
Teacher incentives: The measures also include $140 million for a merit-based pay program, $30 million for an extra month of school in the summer, $8 million to mentor new teachers and $6 million for professional development for teachers.
School programs: The cost of pre-kindergarten will be covered for low-income families. Funding to help students with dyslexia and to provide kindergarten through third grade reading programs is also covered. The plan includes about $3.6 billion to reduce so-called Robin Hood payments and $4.5 billion for “transformational education reforms,” which include putting more money into classrooms to “accelerate student achievements,” according to a statement from state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano.
“I am looking forward to reading every page of #HB 3 and seeing a district-by-district analysis by the Legislative Budget Board to make sure we do right by all of our state’s 5.4 million students,” tweeted state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.
Abbott, Patrick and Bonnen were surrounded by the lawmakers — including Republican state Sens. Nelson and Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills — who served on conference committees that worked to settle differences in the House and Senate budget, school finance and property tax proposals.
“We’re here to tell you we’ve been all together and we’ve stayed all together,” Bonnen said. “We didn’t get here without being a team.”
Nelson called the deal “historic” and something that “provides much-needed property tax relief, well-deserved teacher pay raises and support for school districts.”
Ann Beeson, CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said in a statement that “there’s no question that this is a step forward.”
“We support the bill and the increased investment in our schools,” she wrote. But she added that “we are disappointed that our state leaders prioritized property tax breaks over long-term, sustainable support for the public schools our kids deserve.”
State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth, said the Legislature worked together on these bills.
“So let’s give credit where credit is due,” he tweeted. “It’s (for) the taxpayers of the people of Texas.”
Republican Party Chairman James Dickey was among those applauding the legislation.
“Texans needed and deserved tax relief,” he said in a statement. “Thankfully, our Republican legislators have been able to provide a solution that both cuts taxes and improves the structure and long term path of Texas’ school financing.”