Tag Archives: tax relief

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 5, 2019

It was another groundbreaking week in the Texas legislature, and here’s a look at the headlines from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Wednesday, the Texas House of Representatives passed landmark school finance reform legislation. By a vote of 148-1, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 3 passed the lower chamber, clearing the way for its consideration next by the Texas Senate.

The ATPE-supported school finance bill as finally passed by the House allocates billions in new money for public schools, reduces recapture, and provides homeowners with property tax relief. The House added bipartisan compromise language to HB 3 during Wednesday’s floor debate to ensure that all full-time public school district employees in non-administrator roles will also receive pay raises.

Read more about the bill and Wednesday’s major vote in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as attention turns to the Senate to find out how the upper chamber will respond to the school finance bill.


The Senate Education Committee and House Public Education Committee both held multiple meetings this week to hear a variety of education bills.

The Senate Education Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, largely focused on hearing bills pertaining to dual credit. The agenda for Thursday, April 4, included a host of bills relating to virtual schools, including some bills that ATPE opposes. Other pending bills previously heard by the committee were also voted out with favorable recommendations for the full Senate. Read more about the Senate committee’s activities this week in blog posts here and here from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins who covered the hearings.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Public Education Committee’s Tuesday hearing covered topics ranging from pre-K to technology and educator preparation. The agenda for the committee’s Thursday hearing also featured a wide variety of issues, including one bill that ATPE opposes to require school districts to let home-schooled students participate in UIL activities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier covered the House Public Education Committee hearings, and you can read her reports on the two meetings from this week in blog posts here and here.


ATPE is urging educators to oppose two Senate bills that would endanger free speech rights and limit the ability to teach students about content that relates to “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” The bills are Senate Bill 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and Senate Bill 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), and both of them got a favorable nod from the Senate State Affairs committee this week.

SB 1569 and SB 905 would expand current laws that restrict the use of public resources for “political advertising.” The bills are unnecessary, since state law already prohibits using school resources for electioneering which is enforced by the Attorney General, and these two bills will have harmful unintended consequences.

SB 1569 would broaden the definition of political advertising, impose harsh restrictions on political speech by public school employees, and make it nearly impossible to teach students about elections or civic responsibility or anything deemed to fall under the vague category of “a matter of public interest.” SB 904 also tries to limit political speech by restricting access to government communication systems like a school district’s Wi-Fi network. It also calls for fining any third party that sends political advertising to a government email address. SB 904 will unreasonably penalize innocent third parties and have a chilling effect on free speech and political involvement by educators, even making it hard to teach students about anything related to politics.

Both SB 1569 and SB 904 appear to be reactions to the surge in educator participation in elections last year, and both bills are likely to spark constitutional challenges if passed. Based on their obvious targeting of the education community, both bills are reminiscent of unsuccessful efforts last legislative session to dissuade educators from joining professional associations that advocate for public education. With yesterday’s committee vote, these two bills have the potential to reach the full Senate for a floor debate very soon. ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators and ask them to reject SB 1569 and SB 904. Read more about the bills in this blog post. ATPE members can click here to visit Advocacy Central and send a quick message to their senator.


As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, the legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase contributions into the TRS pension fund. This week the House Committee on Pensions, Investments and Financial Services considered one of the bills, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which the full Senate has already passed unanimously.

SB 12 is being sponsored on the Senate side by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R- League City), who chairs the Article III (education) subcommittee in House Appropriations and is the author of another bill to increase funding for TRS via House Bill (HB) 9. (That bill, which ATPE also supports, was already heard by the House Pensions committee last week.) ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that during this week’s hearing on SB 12, Chairman Bonnen offered a committee substitute version of Senate Bill 12 that would replace its language with the language from his HB 9. After a brief hearing on the bill, the committee took the somewhat unusual step of immediately voting the committee substitute version of SB 12 favorably out of committee and recommending that it go to the full House for further consideration. The bill, which appears to be on an expedited track, will next go to the House Calendars Committee which has the authority to set the bill on a House calendar for a scheduled for debate. Once the bill has been approved by the full House, which it is expected to easily do, it will return to the Senate where Sen. Huffman will likely send SB 12 to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate language.

While both versions of the bill would increase the overall contribution rate into the TRS pension system and provide current retirees with a 13th check, the House language does so by focusing the entire increase on the state’s contribution rate without raising the rates of educators or school districts. Additionally, the House version provides for a substantially larger 13th check, up to $2400 per retiree vs $500 dollars per retiree in the Senate version of the bill.


 

A closer look at Senate school finance and property tax plans

Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 4 at the end of last week, which was the deadline to file most bills for consideration during the 2019 legislative session.

The Senate has focused on property taxes early on this session and also quickly passed SB 3 on March 4, proposing to give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise across-the-board. For its part, the House spent most of the first half of the session preparing to unveil its comprehensive school finance reform plan. After the House released its major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, many were waiting to see how the Senate would respond. SB 4 represents the Senate’s stab at a similar school finance plan.

In its current form, SB 4 is a rough draft with many portions left incomplete. As with the original version of HB 3 as filed, ATPE believes SB 4 as filed includes a mix of favorable and unfavorable proposals. Among its positive aspects, SB 4 would create a full-day pre-K program and allow educators’ children to participate in that. It would also provide professional development materials for implementing blended learning. Below are some additional details on the Senate’s school finance proposal:

SB 4: OUTCOMES FUNDING

The Senate’s bill includes a controversial outcomes-based funding model that would provide school districts additional money for students who perform well on standardized tests. Specifically, SB 4 would create a new third-grade reading allotment that would give districts an unspecified amount of funding for each “educationally disadvantaged” student who performs well on a third-grade reading test chosen by the commissioner of education. The commissioner would determine what it means to be educationally disadvantaged for purposes of this bill.

ATPE and other education stakeholders have continuously pointed out the consensus view of the education community: outcomes-based funding rewards schools that are already performing well, while denying resources to poorly performing schools that need those resources in order to improve. The third-grade reading allotment under SB 4 would likewise leave poorly performing schools to fend for themselves, while sending the resources they need in order to improve to districts that are already doing well.

SB 4: MERIT PAY

Regarding teacher compensation, SB 4 would create an “educator effectiveness” merit pay program. The program would require participating districts to provide merit salary increases based upon the educator’s performance under a new evaluation system that must include student surveys and student academic growth, which is generally measured through standardized test scores. The number of educators who can participate would be restricted to a small percentage of the statewide teaching population, and salary increases under this program would be higher for educators who are assigned to campuses with poor overall or domain performance ratings under the A-F accountability system. While districts would be given a degree of flexibility in designing these programs, the commissioner of education would ultimately have the sole discretion to determine what sort of program meets the criteria.

Research shows that student performance on standardized tests is not a scientifically valid measure of educator effectiveness, especially since the tests were not designed for that purpose. ATPE continues to warn that tying educator pay to student test scores will create a perverse set of incentives that only increases concerns about “teaching to the test.” ATPE supports programs that offer higher pay to educators who volunteer to serve at struggling campuses, take on campus leadership roles above and beyond their classroom duties, or who obtain advanced or high-needs training and certifications. Recognizing that what works for one district doesn’t necessarily work for every district, ATPE recommends that these differentiated pay programs be designed at the local level with input from educators, and not be tied to a single set of agency-approved criteria.

SB 4: OTHER CHANGES

The Senate’s school finance bill also includes school district funding for each student in kindergarten through grade three who is educationally disadvantaged or in a bilingual or special language program. It would create a new allotment to provide district funding for each educationally disadvantaged student who demonstrates college, career, or military readiness.

SB 4 would make the following additional changes:

  • Create new weighted funding for dual language instruction and students with dyslexia.
  • Expand career and technology education (CTE) program funding to the eighth grade.
  • Convert transportation funding to mileage-based from a linear density-based formula.
  • Order a study of the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA).
  • Create new small and midsize and fast growth allotments.
  • Codify the state’s 60×30 graduation goal and order a biennial progress report.
  • Require students to fill out a FAFSA before graduation.
  • Eliminate intensive summer programs for students at risk of dropping out.
  • Adjust the equalized wealth level under Chapter 41.

The bill would eliminate the high school allotment, gifted and talented allotment, and outdated cost of education index (CEI), presumably to roll them into the basic allotment. Placeholder language in the bill indicates Sen. Taylor intends changes to other formula weights as well, but an estimate of the bill’s cost cannot be completed until those numbers are included.

SENATE PRIORITY BILLS

In the Senate, bills that are important to the lieutenant governor receive the lowest bill numbers. As one of the first five bills in numerical order, SB 4 is considered a major priority bill. The top five includes SB 1, which is the Senate budget that includes $3.7 billion to cover the $5,000 raise proposed in SB 3 — another priority bill. The addition of librarians to SB 3 raised the price tag of that pay raise bill to $3.9 billion.

The Senate’s property tax relief program consists of SB 2 and SB 5. Filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), SB 5 would increase the amount of state funding to local school districts in order to raise the individual homestead exemption from $25,000 up to $35,000. This would ease some of the burden on homeowners, who have paid for an increasing share of the cost of public education as property values have risen and the current funding formulas have allowed the state to decrease its contributions.

Also filed by Sen. Bettencourt, SB 2 would cap the annual revenue growth of local taxing entities, including school districts, at 2.5 percent. If local tax collections increase more than 2.5 percent due to an increase in property values, then the local taxing unit most lower the tax rate or hold an election asking voters if they can exceed the 2.5 percent cap. Cities and counties have argued that this could imperil their ability to provide basic services, including first responders.

The Senate has already passed SB 3, but an across-the-board teacher pay raise has faced a chilly reception in the Texas House. SB 2 faces an uncertain future, with members raising serious concerns over the impact the 2.5 percent cap would have on public safety and local services. At this time, SB 2 has yet to be scheduled for debate on the Senate floor. SB 4 and SB 5 are the most recently filed bills, and both await hearings in their respective committees. Keep checking back on here at TeachtheVote.org for updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 8, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of the week’s major education headlines coming out of Austin and Washington, DC, as reported by the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


House leaders announced the filing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Texas House of Representatives held a press conference to announce the filing of House Bill (HB) 3.  The much-anticipated school finance reform bill was filed by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, with the support of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Numerous state representatives from both parties signed on to co-author the bill immediately upon its filing.

HB 3 aims to provide $9 billion for a combination of school finance changes and property tax relief. HB 3 would lower the property tax bills of many homeowners by funding four cents’ worth of school property tax compression per $100 of property value. The bill injects additional funding into certain areas, including emphasizing pre-Kindergarten programs and help for students with dyslexia and other special needs, but HB 3 in its initial version also includes a number of provisions that are concerning to ATPE and other educator groups.

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board pay raise like Senate Bill (SB) 3, which has already passed the full Senate. HB 3 instead provides funding for a statewide merit pay program and calls for changes to the structure of the state’s 20-year minimum salary schedule (MSS). The changes outlined in the bill include an increase in the MSS steps for fully certified teachers (excluding those working under a probationary or emergency type of certificate). However, HB 3 also authorizes school districts to adopt their own performance-based salary schedule for teachers in lieu of following the state’s MSS.

HB 3 contemplates a statewide merit pay program through which the top one-third of teachers who meet certain other criteria may earn additional compensation upon receiving “recognized, exemplary, or master teacher designations.” The commissioner would establish most criteria for this program. Designations would only be available to a teacher of record who also holds a leadership role and would be based upon criteria that include student assessments, student perception surveys, and appraisal data. Designations earned by a teacher would be valid for a five-year period and noted on the teacher’s virtual certificate. HB 3 allows SBEC to revoke or suspend a teacher’s designation and also allows the commissioner to revoke, suspend, or modify a district’s own criteria for participating in the program. Interestingly, HB 3 states that the 22:1 class-size limit currently found in law would no longer apply to classes taught by any teacher who earns a designation under this program.

Read more about the filing of HB 3 in this blog post and watch for updates in the next few days as the House plans its first public hearing of HB 3 on Tuesday, March 12, 2019. As with other major school finance and teacher compensation bills that have been filed this session, ATPE views HB 3 as merely a starting point for ongoing discussions in the House. We look forward to working with Chairman Huberty and House leaders on changes to this bill as it moves forward, and ATPE hopes to help the House and Senate reach an ultimate compromise on school funding improvements that will benefit students and educators across the state.


On Monday, the full Senate passed SB 3 to provide a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers. During the floor debate on Monday, SB 3 author Sen. Jane Nelson amended the bill to include librarians. The bill was passed unanimously. Read more about SB 3 here.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, March 5, 2019, to discuss a major school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session. Among the bills heard was Senate Bill (SB) 11 filed earlier this week by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). SB 11 includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. SB 11 requires schools to develop multihazard emergency operations plans and assemble threat assessment teams. ATPE supported the bill during the committee hearing. Read more in this blog post.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee on March 5, 2019.

On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to STAAR testing. Tuesday’s hearing included hours of invited testimony from teachers, district leaders, parents, and TEA staff. The committee also heard several other bills including HB 851 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that would extend the expiration date for the law providing for Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs). Read more about the hearing in this blog post.

 


A new federal bill to provide tax relief for educators is gaining traction and bipartisan support. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. Four members of the Texas congressional delegation have already signed on as cosponsors of the ATPE-supported legislation. Read more in this blog post.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in Texas House District 145 have elected a new state representative to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado. Democrat Christina Morales, a Houston entrepreneur, beat out challenger and former City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega,securing 59% of the vote in a special election runoff held Tuesday night. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Morales and looks forward to working with her for the remainder of this session.

Voting is currently underway for San Antonians living in House District 145. The race to fill the seat vacated by by former state representative and current Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez is down to two opponents: former City Councilman Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) and businessman Fred Rangel (R-San Antonio). Today is the last day of early voting. The special election runoff for this seat will take place next Tuesday, March 12.

 


 

Texans in Congress cosponsor federal bill to double teachers’ tax deduction

There is good news to report from the nation’s capital, as some members of Congress are looking to double a popular tax deduction that benefits educators. H.R. 878, the Educators Expense Deduction Modernization Act, was filed by Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown of Maryland and has garnered support from some members of the Texas delegation.

The bill as filed would allow teachers to deduct up to $500 from their federal taxes (instead of $250 under current law) for any classroom supplies that they purchase. The permanent tax deduction also would be adjusted for inflation.

The following Texans have signed on as cosponsors of H.R. 878:

  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-018)
  • Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX-030)
  • Rep. Filemon Vela, Jr. (D-TX-034)
  • Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-015)
  • Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX-23)

In signing on to become a cosponsor of H.R. 878 today, Texas Congressman Will Hurd appears to be the first member of the Republican party to do so nationwide. Hurd issued a press release lauding the bill and noting ATPE’s support for it.  “There’s no good reason why our teachers should pay out of their own pockets for the resources needed to do their jobs, which is why I’m proud to cosponsor this bill today,” said Rep. Hurd.

ATPE recognizes that many of our members routinely spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars out of their own pockets to help provide students with the supplies they need to thrive in the classroom. We appreciate those among our Congressional delegation who are supporting this bill to help give teachers additional, modest tax relief, and we hope that other members of our delegation will join the bipartisan effort. View ATPE’s press release about the federal tax deduction legislation here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 1, 2019

Read the latest legislative and education news for this “ATPE at the Capitol” week from your ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Hundreds of ATPE members traveled to Austin earlier this week for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event hosted every legislative session year.

On Sunday, Feb. 24, ATPE members gathered at the JW Marriott for a series of training sessions. They heard a welcome message from ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and learned how to advocate for ATPE’s legislative priorities with help from the ATPE lobbyists and Executive Director Shannon Holmes. Attendees spent the day networking with their colleagues and shopping at the ATPE Boutique for merchandise with sales benefiting the ATPE-PAC.

The day finished with a panel discussion featuring State Board of Education member Keven Ellis (R) and State Representatives Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) and Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint). The closing session was moderated by Spectrum News Capital Tonight political anchor Karina Kling and gave ATPE at the Capitol attendees an opportunity to ask the panel questions about school finance, testing, retirement, and more.

ATPE members boarded buses to the State Capitol early Monday morning, Feb. 25, to meet with their own legislators, sit in on hearings, and share their advocacy messages in support of public education. ATPE at the Capitol attendees gathered for a group photo Monday afternoon outside the Senate’s chamber, which prompted brief appearances by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE’s state officers also visited with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.

When the full House and Senate convened their floor sessions Monday afternoon, Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) presented honorary resolutions recognizing ATPE members in each chamber and applauding them for their work on behalf of Texas public schools and students.

This year’s ATPE at the Capitol event coincided with a hearing Monday by the Senate Finance Committee on Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would provide teachers an across-the-board salary increase of $5,000. Many ATPE members attended and even testified before the committee in support of Chairwoman Nelson’s high-profile bill, including ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray. Read more about the SB 3 hearing below.

For more coverage of ATPE at the Capitol, be sure to check out our photo album on ATPE’s Facebook page.

 


At the conclusion of Monday’s hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 3, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to send the high-profile teacher pay raise bill to the Senate floor. The vote came after consideration of a few amendments and hearing from more than a dozen educators who testified on the bill, including several ATPE members. SB 3 has already been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar and could be brought up for floor consideration as early as next week.

During ATPE at the Capitol activities on Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made a brief appearance before the crowd of ATPE members at the state capitol and talked about the bill. He shared that he expects SB 3 to be either the first or second bill passed by the full Senate this session. With 27 co-authors already signed on to the bill, it appears evident that SB 3 will make it out of the full Senate with ease and head over to the Texas House for consideration.

SB 3 is likely to face tougher scrutiny in the lower chamber, where House leaders have criticized the bill and expressed a preference for advancing a merit pay proposal similar to what has been recommended by the Texas Commission on Public School Finance and Gov. Greg Abbott (R). ATPE expects the House’s school finance and teacher compensation omnibus bill to be filed within the next few days, as House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty announced plans for a press conference about the House bill on Tuesday, March 5, with committee hearings expected during the week of March 11.

Read more about Monday’s SB 3 hearing and ATPE’s testimony in this blog post. Tune in to Teach the Vote next week for more on the budget and school finance discussions. We’ll have analysis of the anticipated House bill, plus updates on the budget writing process as the Senate take a deeper dive on SB 1 with the appointment of work groups for various sections of the draft budget. As announced by Chairwoman Nelson on Monday, Sens. Paul Bettencourt, Charles Perry, and Royce West will serve on a work group chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor for the public education portion of Article III of the budget.

 


FEDERAL UPDATE: In Washington, DC this week, education and a Texas elected official were in the news.

On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) joined U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at a press conference announcing his filing of new bill offering federal tax credits to individuals or corporations who fund private school voucher scholarships. Read more about the voucher push in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Also in Washington, the House Education and Labor Committee announced five informational hearings to formally launch the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA was last re-authorized in 2008. The five hearings will cover the cost of college; higher education accountability; costs of non-completion; the roles of community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions; and innovation in degree pathways. The hearings have not been scheduled yet. Conversations around affordability and accountability are also taking place between Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

 


The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday, Feb. 26, and considered 21 bills over the course of several hours. The agenda included bills pertaining to health and student safety, use of technology and instructional materials funding, recess policies, and more. Read more about Tuesday’s discussions in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier who attended the hearing. Next Tuesday, March 5, the committee will meet again to hear a number of bills relating to student assessments.

 


Last Friday, Feb. 22, the State Board for Educator Certification held its first meeting of 2019. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the meeting and provided this summary of the board’s discussions.

Related to educator preparation and certification, it’s almost time for new teachers and principals to share their feedback on educator preparation programs (EPPs). The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will be collecting data from principals of first-year teachers and all first-year teachers to help assess the effectiveness of various EPPs. The results of the principal survey will be used for EPP accountability. Both principals and teachers will have access to training modules before completing the surveys. The surveys will become available on April 3, 2019. Find more detailed information about the surveys here.

 


 

From The Texas Tribune: Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
Dec. 19, 2018

Texas Commission on Public School Finance member Todd Williams of Dallas, left, speaks with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, on Jan. 23, 2018. | Photo by Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune

Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

After hours of discussion Wednesday, a state panel studying school finance stripped its final report of language that blamed the state for inadequate education spending — and that added urgency to a need for more money to improve student performance.

The original version of the report, unveiled last Tuesday, included stronger language that held the state accountable for the lack of education funding and urged lawmakers to immediately inject more than a billion dollars of new funding into public schools. Scott Brister, the panel’s chairman and a former Texas Supreme Court justice, led the charge to make those changes, which he said would be more palatable to lawmakers and keep Texas from being sued in the future.

“I do have a problem several places where it says our school system has failed. I do think that’s asking for trouble,” he said.

Some lawmakers and educators on the panel pushed back before agreeing to compromise.

“I think we have failed our schools and we haven’t funded them, in my view, adequately or equitably,” responded state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee.

Despite the conflict, the 13-member commission unanimously approved more than 30 recommendations on Wednesday aimed at boosting public education funding, improving student performance, cleaning up a messy funding distribution system — and providing property tax relief for Texans.

A final report will be sent to lawmakers, who are convening next month amid calls from state leadership to overhaul a long-embattled school finance system. Gov. Greg Abbott supported the panel’s vote in a statement Wednesday afternoon: “Today’s school finance commission report made clear that the state must reform the broken Robin Hood system and allocate more state funding to education. This session, we will do just that.”

The vote was the culmination of nearly a year of meetings and hours of testimony from school superintendents, education advocates and policy experts.

Panel members have bickered for months about basic foundational concepts, including whether the state had been underfunding public schools and whether they actually need more money in order to improve. The report takes a middle ground approach, promising more money to school districts that meet certain criteria or agree to offer specific programs such as dual language or merit pay for teachers.

Many of the debates among panel members Wednesday reflected their political divisions, with Brister — a conservative and Abbott appointee — arguing against citing a specific amount lawmakers should infuse into the public school funding system and school officials saying the panel should take an explicit stand based on its research.

An earlier version of the report said lawmakers should take the “important first step” of approving more than $1.73 billion in “new funding” for “the vast majority (if not all)” of the proposed programs.

The recommendation the commission approved Wednesday dropped that dollar figure.

Brister said he was uncomfortable sending a report to lawmakers that pressured them into making specific financial decisions.

“I am willing to say we will have to add new money to do these things. I am not willing to say, ‘And the first step is, every dime has to come from new money,” he said.

Nicole Conley-Johnson, chief financial officer of the Austin Independent School District, unsuccessfully argued to keep the paragraph in its original form.

“The spirit by which we were convened is to establish the changes and make recommendations,” she said. “I feel like we need to have the foresight to put in the estimated cost.”

Education advocacy groups criticized Brister’s decision. “There can be no real school finance reform that fails to address adequacy,” said Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Public Educators, in a statement after Wednesday’s vote. “ATPE is disheartened that some members on the commission were unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the limitation of our state’s current funding levels out of fears of sparking litigation.”

The report still includes cost estimates for recommended programs and changes to how funding is divvied up among schools. But it no longer implores state lawmakers to pay for them.

Among the recommendations the commission plans to send to lawmakers are:

  • $100 million a year to school districts that want to develop their own teacher evaluation metrics and tie pay to performance. The total amount available should increase $100 million each year until it reaches $1 billion.
  • Up to $150 million to incentivize school districts to offer dual language programs, which instruct students in both English and Spanish, and to improve their dyslexia programs.
  • $800 million to incentivize school districts to improve students’ reading level in early grades and to succeed in college or a career after graduating high school.
  • $1.1 billion to improve education for low-income students, with school districts that have a higher share of needy students getting more money.
  • Create a new goal of having 60 percent of third-grade students reading on or above grade level and 60 percent of high school seniors graduating with a technical certificate, military inscription, or college enrollment without the need for remedial classes.
  • Cap local school district tax rates in order to offer property tax relief and a small amount of funding for schools —a proposal from Abbott.
  • No extra funding for special education programs until the state has completed overhauling those programs in line with a federal mandate.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/19/texas-school-finance-panel-approves-final-report/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

School finance commission discusses initial recommendations

School finance commission meeting Dec. 11, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin to discuss recommendations for the commission’s report, which is due to the legislature by the end of the month. The initial draft recommendations can be viewed here, and additional resources can be found here.

The draft report includes a recommendation that the 86th Texas Legislature “inject significant additional annual state revenue” through new strategic allotments and weights outlined in the commission’s report, including about $1.7 billion in specific areas. The report adds that for the purposes of new funding, members should note that an increase of $500 million in state funding is equal to a roughly 0.9 percent increase over the last budget biennium. This would be formula funding, targeted at the neediest studies, and tied to specific outcomes.

Commission Chair Scott Brister voiced reservations, suggesting that asking the legislature for significant additional funding is not the commission’s job. He later clarified that his chief opposition was to placing a dollar figure on additional funding. Several members pushed back, including House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who said he would not sign a report that does not call for additional school funding.

The report also calls for reallocating $5.34 billion in existing funds to more impactful spending and greater system-wide equity. The commission recommends significant investment to substantially increase third grade reading levels. Outcomes-based funding would be targeted toward early literacy and post-secondary access of career, military, or higher education without remediation.

The commission is recommending a high-quality teacher allotment, initially funded at $200 million, for districts wishing to offer differentiated compensation to pay their most effective educators higher salaries sooner in their career. This would be contingent on districts creating locally-developed, multi-measure evaluation and compensation systems based on an outline created by the legislature. This includes the state setting a goal that top teachers have a path to a $100,000 salary and incentivizing districts to assign top teachers to the most challenging campuses.

Finally, the draft report calls for statutorily increasing the basic allotment, though it does not specify a specific amount. It calls for increasing the yield on “copper pennies” and compressing the rate in order to provide tax relief, as well as reducing the role of recapture in the school finance system. The report makes no recommendations regarding special education, instead suggesting that the current corrective action plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education should be completed before any additional reforms are discussed.

Discussing the commission’s major findings, Brister acknowledged that schools are being asked to do more than ever before. This includes higher security standards and providing for the physical and mental well-being of students in addition to educating them. He then asked to strike language from the report that says the state has failed to adequately fund public education.

After breaking for lunch, the commission returned for more in-depth discussion on individual recommendations. Commission member Todd Williams of the Commit Partnership in Dallas pointed out that the teacher compensation portion of the plan (Section D) does not include specific funding for strategic staffing such as that implemented by the Dallas ISD ACE program, which is intended to incentivize top teachers to teach at the highest-need campuses. Williams argued the evaluation system and strategic staffing system should be treated as separate and funded accordingly.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) then laid out the recommendations from the working group he chaired on revenues. The group’s primary recommendation is to adopt Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to cap local property tax revenue growth. The plan suggests capping growth at 2.5 percent annually, and replacing revenue lost by school districts with state funding. The governor’s office does not specify how much this would cost or from where the replacement funding would come.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez presented a chart addressing the three plans endorsed by Bettencourt’s group, which suggests that the governor’s plan would reduce local maintenance and operations (M&O) tax collections by nearly $1 billion and increase school district revenue by $300 million in 2020 at a cost of roughly $1.3 billion. By 2023, the governor’s plan is projected to reduce M&O tax collection by $3.7 billion while increasing school district revenues by $74 million. Lopez pointed out that this is primarily a tax relief plan, as opposed to a school finance plan, which explains why future funding is projected to flatten out.

The commission discussed the level of emphasis that should be placed upon the governor’s revenue cap plan. Members pointed out the interrelation of property taxes and school finance, as well as the need to focus on the commission’s statutory charge, which is to fix the school finance system. The governor’s plan alone would not change the fundamental mechanics of the school finance system.

Sen. Bettencourt has argued that the state’s coffers will be flush heading into the next budget cycle based on tax revenue from booming oil and gas production, but the state comptroller has yet to release a formal biennial revenue estimate (BRE) with hard numbers upon which to base a budget. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who represents oil and gas-dependent west Texas, cautioned against relying on oil and gas as a reliable, long-term funding source. A combination of the governor’s plan and the commission’s recommendations for additional public education spending could add up to a price tag north of $5 billion for the upcoming budget biennium.

The commission is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, to vote on final recommendations. The commission is required by law to submit its report to the legislature by December 31.

From The Texas Tribune: A tight-fisted Texas Legislature with expensive ambitions

Analysis: A tight-fisted Texas Legislature with expensive ambitions” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The Texas Legislature’s strong allergy to tax increases might be abating — just as long as you don’t call them tax increases.

They’re not saying so out loud — no point in riling up a price-sensitive electorate before the holidays, before the upcoming legislative session — or before lawmakers are ready to make their sales pitch.

But the talk of school finance as a top legislative priority guarantees a conversation about taxes. While there are many great policy reasons to mess with that persistent and gnarly issue, the political motivation here is simple: Texas property owners have made it clear to their representatives that they want lower property taxes.

When you do hear lawmakers talking about tax increases next year — whatever euphemisms they choose — they’ll be talking in terms of how that money will pay for property tax cuts. Cutting everyone’s current most-hated tax is the only way to explain so many conservative legislators making serious noises about increasing state revenue.

Given the way the state pays for public education — with a combination of local property taxes, and state and federal funding — the only ways to lower property taxes are to cut public education spending or to find money elsewhere to offset property tax cuts.

In the state’s 2019 fiscal year, the local share of school finance spending is estimated to be 55.5 percent of the total, while the state’s share is expected to be 35 percent, according to the Legislative Budget Board. The rest comes from the federal government.

The last time the Texas Legislature tackled school finance, the local and state shares matched. Years of rising property values – and rising local property tax revenue with them – have allowed the state to lower its share.

The price tag for a rebalancing would be enormous, though. And in spite of Democratic gains in last month’s elections, Texas still has a Republican-dominated state government, with GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, and Republicans in every statewide office. Many of them got where they are by opposing anything that sounded like higher taxes, which makes the road ahead pretty interesting.

If you do some quick arithmetic on those 2019 estimates, it would take a $5.7 billion increase in annual state spending to rebalance the state and local shares of public education spending. Doing that would put them both back where they were in 2008 — each covering about 45 percent of the load.

That’s easier to do on the back of an envelope than it is to do in the Legislature. The budget ahead is tight. House and Senate leaders have to pass what’s called a “supplemental appropriations bill” to take care of shortages in the current budget, Hurricane Harvey recovery costs, and so on. Early guesstimates are that they’ll start more than $5 billion short of what they need for the next budget — and that’s before they even bring up the expensive school finance project.

The governor already is circulating a document that dares to mention taxes in the title: “Improving Student Outcomes and Maintaining Affordability through Comprehensive Education and Tax Reforms.”

That gets right to the politics of the situation: State leaders are interested in easing property tax burdens, and school finance is the biggest lever in their toolkit. It’s also way out of balance and happens to need fixing. Lawmakers often blame the imbalance on school funding formulas. But they’re the authors of those dreaded formulas, and this is also a chance to put something better in place.

But it’s the tax problem — the price of owning property — that has made their price-sensitive voters potentially receptive to increases in other taxes. New money could come from eliminating exemptions, from property appraisal reforms, from raising existing tax rates or creating new taxes — any number of things. They’ll decide the details when they meet. They’ll figure out what to call it, too: It might be remarkable to see “tax” in the title of the governor’s presentation, but its neighboring word — “reform” — is the political touch.

They want to lower property taxes to make their voters happy, and to accomplish that expensive task without stirring up a new revolt from a different set of taxpayers.

At the end, someone in Texas has to pay for this stuff.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/03/tight-fisted-texas-legislature-school-finance-property-tax/.

 

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Finance commission group finalizes recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenue met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss recommendations to deliver to the full commission. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who leads the working group, indicated he is open to using the economic stabilization fund (ESF), which is commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund,” to help fund public education.

School finance commission working group meeting November 27, 2018.

Bettencourt opened the meeting suggesting that state revenues are looking bullish heading into the next budget biennium. Again, Sen. Bettencourt emphasized his priority is phasing out the “Robin Hood” system of wealth equalization through recapture. According to Bettencourt, freezing recapture would cost approximately $2.3 billion.

Before Bettencourt began his presentation, commission member and Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson told the group she had identified $14 billion in new programs to propose to the commission.

According to figures Bettencourt provided to the group, the state comptroller increased the revenue estimate for the next biennium to $110.2 billion in July 2018 from $104.9 billion in 2017, a $5.3 billion increase. During the first two months of fiscal year (FY) 2019, sales tax revenues, which represent 58 percent of all state tax collections, are expected to be up ten percent compared to FY 2018.

Bettencourt asserted two point upon which most agree: Without school finance reform, the state’s share of public education funding will continue to shrink, and the amount of funding districts pay into recapture for wealth equalization will continue to increase. Bettencourt emphasized his prediction that increased revenue in FY 2019 will provide additional general revenue (GR) which will be available to help fund schools.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, raised a question over how equity would be preserved if legislators make changes to or eliminate the recapture system. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who is also a member of the House Public Education Committee, also raised a concern that any increase in school funding will need to be sustainable.

Bettencourt presented the governor’s tax cap plan as the solution. The plan would increase funding for districts that increase teacher pay and improve student outcomes, however Rep. Bernal noted that outcomes-based funding threatens to reward districts that already have the resources necessary to improve while neglecting districts that have failed to improve precisely because they lack the necessary resources. The plan would also limit property tax revenue growth to 2.5 percent per year, which the plan promises to make up for with state funding.

Another proposal discussed by Bettencourt is one presented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a far-right pro-voucher organization, which would aim to eliminate all school district maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes. This would cost roughly $51.3 billion for the 2018-19 biennium. The TPPF proposal claims to be able to pay for itself by dedicating future increases in state revenues to public education, but Bettencourt conceded that this is an optimistic view.

Bettencourt also briefly discussed the idea of “sharing” recapture. In this plan, property value growth would be divided by thirds, and the benefits from the growth in property values would ostensibly be shared. Additionally, Bettencourt suggested using the increase in production severance taxes – largely due to oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin – to help fund public education. This funding stream currently already flows to public education and general revenue, with an overflow stream that is bifurcated between highway funding and the ESF. Despite the Senate’s opposition to spending ESF dollars in previous legislative sessions, Bettencourt indicated he’s now open to spending ESF money to help fund public education. Johnson argued that this represents a redirection of existing revenues and does not represent the new revenue necessary to improve school performance.

The working group voted to advance each of the proposals except the plan offered by TPPF to be considered by the full commission. Rep. King made the motion to table the TPPF plan, which he declared nonsensical. Several members expressed similar concerns. Closing the meeting, commission chair Scott Brister suggested that legislators should feel less constrained by court rulings enforcing equity. As a justice, Brister was a dissenting voice in the West Orange-Cove school finance ruling.

The full commission will meet Friday, again on December 5, and at least once more during the third week of December. The commission will get a chance to react to Tuesday’s recommendations and will arrive at a decision by the December 5 meeting on what the final report should look like. The following meeting will focus on what the report should say. The commission is required to submit its report to the legislature by December 31.

Brister asked commission members to do their best to reach a unanimous consensus on recommendations, and said that in lieu of a minority report, individual members will be allowed to place letters in an appendix to the final report.