There will be plenty of elephants in the room when the Texas Legislature begins its 140-day biennial session on Jan. 13.
That’s not intended as a reference to the Republican dominance of the House and Senate and statewide offices, although that’s true.
It’s a reference to the heavyweight subjects lawmakers will be expected to confront.
Many of them, as always, have to do with money. The cost of Medicaid and other social programs often dominates a lot of the discussion. Transportation infrastructure funding is a perennial problem.
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And then there is the cost of operating public schools.
That’s one elephant that might just hang around at the back of the room the whole session.
Another major lawsuit on the subject (there have been six in the past three decades) is winding its way through the courts.
A state district judge in Austin ruled in August that the current school finance system is unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court will have the final say, but probably not until after the legislative session ends on June 1.
Typically, legislators take serious action on school finance only after receiving a direct order from the Supreme Court.
Not this time, if Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, has his way.
House and Senate members have prefiled 18 bills related to school finance, seven of them filed by Watson this week.
Watson, a former Austin mayor who has served in the Senate since 2007, would prod the Legislature to go ahead and address some of the system’s fundamental flaws:
▪ Dumping the formula adopted in 2006 that reduces state aid to school districts when their local tax revenue goes up.
▪ Revising the allotment for transportation costs, which has remained static since 1984.
▪ Addressing a measure meant to take local costs of living into effect when distributing state aid, not revised since 1991.
He’d reduce the amount of local tax income that some districts are required to send to the state, and he’d help colleges and universities that work with local school districts to achieve postsecondary readiness goals.
Watson says there’s no reason to wait to fix things that are wrong. He’s right about that.