May 12, 2009
School finance bill advances

Has there ever been a legislative session that didn't deal with school finance? This Lege is dealing with it as well, and the good news is they may have made some actual progress.

Texas teachers would get an $800-a-year raise and the Dallas school district would be protected from becoming a "Robin Hood" district for several years under a school finance bill that the House tentatively approved on Monday.

The measure also would merge the state's two teacher incentive pay plans into one program and sharply reduce the amount of the merit pay that would have to be awarded based on student test scores.

Total state funding would increase about $1.9 billion over the next two years, with school districts required to spend at least half of their new state money on teacher salaries. The Dallas school district would see its funding rise $100 per student - just under 2 percent - for a total increase of about $17.5 billion.

School districts had sought more funding, but state leaders said earlier this year that a slowdown in state revenue would prevent a sizable increase.

"Every one of our school districts needs more money," said Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, who laid out the school funding bill to the chamber. But even with the small increase, he added, "this is a fair bill and it is a balanced bill."

One significant change in the bill would raise the threshold for determining which school districts must share their property tax revenue under the Robin Hood provisions of the school finance system. Last year, those districts were required to give up more than $1 billion to help equalize funding across the state.

Two of the biggest beneficiaries are the Dallas and Houston school districts, which are expected to join the ranks of high-property-wealth districts that must share their tax revenue next year. Under the House bill, both would be protected from becoming share-the-wealth districts for several years.

The bill is HB3646, and as of this afternoon it has passed the House, on a 144-2 vote. One additional benefit as noted in this AP story is that the plan is based on a calculation of current average statewide property values, so increases are reflected immediately. This isn't perfect, but as House Public Education Chair Rob Eissler said in the Express News, it buys some time for the Lege to do more when the budget is in better shape. And this is surely a better deal than the schools would have gotten if Tom Craddick were still in charge. So we take what we can get and go from there.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 12, 2009 to Budget ballyhoo

Based on current average statewide property values?

Obviously the legislature expects the appraisal districts to "just say no" to all the homeowners who will protest those property values on the basis of current market values which are increasinly much less than the appraised values. Despite the attempt to keep the public from obtaining the sales figures, the public is nonetheless obtaining them.

The bottom line of the budget this year is that everyone hopes the figures they've juggled around hold up until the elections in 2010 - the economy itself cannot be so easily juggled.

How many times in the past two weeks have we been told the recession has ended only to find out the next day that "key economic indicators" are indicating the opposite.

Wall Street may survive. Main Street probably won't. And as a result many of our state legislators are currently in their last session as legislators. Both Democrats and Republicans.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on May 12, 2009 10:01 PM
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