August 10, 2005
And the school finance action, such as it was

All right, now that we have the other items taken care of, let's look at the school finance bills that were voted on yesterday. The Senate finished what it started by passing Senate Bill 8.

The Senate bill, which would cut school property taxes by 30 cents per $100 valuation in 2007 and boost state school spending by $2.8 billion, is dependent on passage of a tax bill.

But the fate of the school measure without major changes was uncertain in the House, which must initiate action on any tax bill.


The Senate bill would give teachers an average $3,000 pay raise in the next two years, including converting a $1,000 health care stipend to salary. It would allocate $100 million for incentive-pay programs, including rewards for successful teachers in at-risk schools.

The bill also would fund textbooks but doesn't include as much technology funding as the House bill.

Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, author of Senate Bill 8, said it would help districts with transportation costs and programs to boost test scores for bilingual and poor students.

"This is an honest and a good attempt at what we consider to be reasonable and meaningful education reform and property tax reduction," said Shapiro.

But school superintendents say the bill's spending mandates outpace the extra money, leaving them worse off than under current law.

"We tend to forget the fundamental reform — we've got to put more money in the system," said Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

The Senate passed its bill 20-9 with two San Antonio Democrats, Sens. Leticia Van de Putte and Frank Madla, absent.

Ellis failed to get approval for an amendment that would have used $1.8 billion in unbudgeted funds for teacher raises, textbooks and school support personnel's health care costs. Calling it the "get out of Dodge" plan, Ellis said it would allow lawmakers to salvage something out of this summer's second special session if there is no tax bill passed.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, succeeded in amending the bill to require a uniform school start date of the first Tuesday after Labor Day. Lucio said school districts would save millions in air-conditioning costs, families would have more time for vacations, and the tourism industry would benefit with a more stable labor force.

So: the Ellis-Eltife bill failed, and the uniform school start date, which was one of the items to which school superintendents had strongly objected, is now back.

Senator Van de Putte's absence has caused some hard feelings among her constituents. I have a lot of sympathy for her - there were enough votes to bring SB8 up for debate whether she was there or not, and I'm sure when she first planned this vacation she had every right to believe the Lege would not be in session - but in the end, she wasn't there, and she's going to have to explain that to the voters.

Other items from the story: the House passed a much smaller bill, which authorized buying new textbooks, and Governor Perry finally signed the re-passed HB1, which contained the original school spending measures that he'd line-item-vetoed back in June in order to force the school funding issue.

The Senate also apparently took action on the Ogden joint resolutions, but I can't find much about it in the new. This is about all there is.

The Senate attempted to bypass the rule on new taxes by adopting a measure that would write a reduced maximum school property tax rate into the state constitution. The constitutional amendment would be contingent on a vote from Texans and would mandate a future tax bill to replace lowered taxes.

"The House will not send us a tax bill at the present time," said Republican Sen. Steve Ogden, who introduced the measure. "This is another way to provide property tax relief to the people of the state of Texas.

"We have no other choice right now."

I guess that means all three of them passed. Beyond that, and what their prospects may be in the House, I couldn't say.

I also can't say what the deal is with this story, which I found while searching for news on the Ogden JRs.

Senate Education Committee members approved an amendment by state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, after public hearings ended last week.

“They put this in at the last minute without allowing any debate,” Superintendent Paul Trull told Paris Independent School District trustees Monday.

“It will greatly hurt equity and could do away with the small and mid size funding formulas, which our schools depend on to survive,” Trull said. “I am devastated by this move.”

“Ogden’s amendment removed $500 million from the bill, which reduces equity among public schools and creates a year-long delay of property tax relief,” an ATPE e-mail states. “He offered the amendment because the bill did not contain enough funding for all the new provisions and reforms.”

“An amendment by Sen. Ogden was quickly and quietly added after public testimony closed last week,” the alert issued at 7:21 p.m. Monday states. “There was no opportunity to offer concerns about the amendment, and it has major consequences for funding equity.”

“One observer, a former legislator, described the amendment as ‘potentially the most destructive re-write of school funding to be voted out of a legislative committee in 30 years,’” the TASB alert states.

The amendment would give three senators and three representatives (a majority of each session’s appropriations conference committee) the ability to re-write or individually fund, or not fund, several of the key school funding provisions, the TASB alert states.

“By careful manipulation, they would reward their own districts or punish the districts of other members,” the TASB alert alleges. “They could do this by using formulas that are intended to reflect cost differences districts must pay or that partially equalize the ability of school districts to fund their programs.”

“The only defense of changes like this would be to vote down an entire general appropriations bill, an action many legislators would be reluctant to take,” the e-mail concludes.

“Ogden’s amendment language makes SB 8 a radical change from the current system and represents a giant step backwards in assuring necessary support for our public schools,” the TASB alert states.

This is the first I've read of any of this. Based on the later quotes from Sen. Kevin Eltife, I'm guessing that Ogden's amendment did not make it into the final version of SB8, but without knowing what it was, I can't be sure. Anyone have more information on this?

UPDATE: Edited slightly for clarity in light of estiv's comment. I think the Paris News story is about an amendment Ogden added to SB8, and not about his separate joint resolutions for constitutional amendments. I'm still not sure what that amendment was about, though.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 10, 2005 to Budget ballyhoo | TrackBack

It looks like the Ogden item was a joint resolution, not an amendment. Take a look at SJR 11. But I'm basing this on a quick glance...

Posted by: estiv on August 10, 2005 9:37 AM

Sorry... What was the question on SJR 11?
It bypasses a court challenge on a state property tax by giving voters the right to say, "this is not a state income tax."
And rolls the tax rate back to $1.25 without funding.
And gives voters the chance to vote on a $22,500 homestead exemption that was in line with the Gov's plan.

Posted by: kimmy on August 10, 2005 10:01 PM