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Equity good, the rest not so much

The Duncan-Staples amendment to HB1, which restores a measure of equity in funding for poorer school districts, was praised by school groups yesterday, though the bill that contains the amendment was not.

The groups, including the Texas Association of School Boards and Texas Association of School Administrators, said the amendment benefits the vast majority of Texas schoolchildren. But they sent a mixed message, saying they cannot support the overall bill because it reduces local control.

[…]

The funding equity amendment, however, has proved the most controversial. It would reduce a funding gap between rich and poor districts and lower the amount of funds that some wealthy districts have to send to poorer districts, requiring the state to replace that money. Estimates of the cost range from $300 million to $700 million a year.

[…]

The Texas School Alliance, which includes the Houston Independent School District and most of the state’s urban districts, was among the groups praising the equity provision, the $2,000 teacher pay raise and extra money for high schools.

But the group said it cannot support the overall bill because of requirements that voters approve future tax increases and the potential lack of sufficient state funding in future years.

Senators backing the funding provision touted the support of the school groups.

“We know that the prosperous future of Texas depends on providing a quality education for all children, regardless of ZIP code, and this plan gives all schools a means to accomplish that goal,” said Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine.

The Senate is supposed to try to pass HB1 today. I gave some thought to what might happen if they fail to do that at Kuff’s World.

Also Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee began discussing a bill that would carve out some exemptions to the broad-based business tax now sitting on the governor’s desk.

One proposed change would remove a requirement that voters approve any increases in the rate of the business tax, set at 1 percent of adjusted gross revenue for most business and one-half of 1 percent for retailers, wholesalers and restaurants.

Another amendment would help professional sports teams exempt some of their broadcast revenue.

Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said that the cleanup bill will be “revenue neutral,” meaning it will not raise more than the $3.8 billion estimated from HB 3, the expanded business tax bill. He said any increases in taxes will be countered by lowering the business tax rate.

Craddick noted that the House withdrew or voted down many of the same amendments when they were offered to HB 3. He said he was concerned about the business tax not remaining broad-based and fair.

Seems a bit dicey to me to be working on exceptions and carveouts when there still isn’t fundamental agreement on all of the main provisions of the bill in question. We’ll see what happens. Eye on Williamson has more, and the Texas SALT Law Blog has a more detailed rundown of the status of each bill underconsideration. Check it out.

UPDATE: The Public Education Advocates’ Report, which I got in email, includes the following:

The Senate Finance Committee has reported out CSHB 1, and the battle over recapture moves from the committee to the full Senate. After two days of negotiations, the differences are still unresolved.

  • The Duncan-Staples amendment allows equalization but endangers recapture. It does that by allowing wealthier districts to keep the revenue from additional tax effort (up to four cents) and having the state kick in money to equalize for poorer districts.
  • Here’s the problem: If CSHB 1 survives the Senate and goes back to the House, then recapture will be on the table in conference. So it’s important for Senate members to insist that no bill comes to the floor of the Senate until there’s a guarantee that the Senate version, and specifically the state-funded equalization enhancements, survives any conference committee process.
  • If Dewhurst, Shapiro, et al. cannot make that promise, then CSHB 1 deserves to die. Remember, many of the Senate “add-ons” are problematic:
    • The Magical Disappearing Pay Raise. CSHB 1 promises a pay raise to teachers, but does not give them enough to recover from cuts over the last three years. Plus, it takes away health benefits from 300,000 school support staff like cafeteria workers and janitors.
    • Hey, buddy, wanna buy a school? CSHB 1 proposes to turn schools over to private, so-called “not-for-profit” companies that will manage the schools. If you think HMOs have made your health care better, you’ll love this idea!
    • Support real accountability. Focus on student achievement, not on teaching to the tests. For instance, eliminate the provision tying a school’s funding to English immersion programs, which sacrifice overall education for “gaming” yet another standardized test.
    • Local control. CSHB 1 mandates a uniform start date for the school year and makes it harder for school districts to set tax rates without expensive, time-consuming voter approval.

Message to Senators: Equalization is non-negotiable, and their voters will let them know that if they allow it to be undermined.

I expect you’ll hear more of these themes as the session continues.

UPDATE: More from Eye on Williamson.

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