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Aycock files school finance reform bill


Jimmie Don Aycock

A key House Republican said Texas lawmakers should not wait for the outcome of a sprawling school finance lawsuit to discuss changes to the state’s current public education funding system.

“While we do not know the final outcome of the school finance lawsuit, I believe it is appropriate to foster broad conversations on this matter while awaiting the final decision,” Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said in a memo circulated to colleagues Monday.


In the memo, Aycock asked for the input of House lawmakers on a “very rough initial bill” that he intended to be a “conversation starter.”

His proposal, House Bill 654, would simplify the school funding mechanism by grouping the state’s 1,026 regular school districts into at least 30 “school finance districts,” which would provide per-student funding that is within $30o of the statewide average.

“I am not even confident that I like this concept,” Aycock said. “The unfortunate truth is that with each passing lawsuit, the Legislature is forced into more and more convoluted decisions in our effort to balance constitutional requirements, court mandates, and limited resources.”

Aycock’s memo is here. I didn’t expect anything of substance to happen this session, but I’ll be glad to be wrong. Aycock is an honest broker, so while there’s obviously a lot of blanks to be filled in, this is a discussion well worth having.

Until we have some more of those blanks filled in it’s hard to evaluate this idea – as noted above, even Aycock himself isn’t sure about it – but the basic idea has merit. It does attack the basic inequity problem, though I suspect setting up these school finance districts and maintaining them going forward will be fraught with political intrigue. Can you imagine what the school finance district redistricting process will look like? I’m not saying any of this to cast aspersions, just to point out that any change to the existing system, whatever its merits, will necessarily be difficult because someone will wind up better off and someone else will wind up worse off. It’s human nature.

And indeed, that seems to be the opening bid in response.

Aycock said his proposal is modeled after the “County Education Districts” the state set up in 1991, which subsequently were shot down for violating the state Constitution by enforcing an illegal statewide property tax.

School finance expert Sheryl Pace of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association said she believed the education districts were working before they were undone.

“I thought it was a good system. It provided equity, but also gave school districts some local control,” said Pace, who added she believes Aycock’s proposal could “be an improvement because you’d have statewide equity.

“Right now you have some districts that are receiving substantially more revenue than others per weighted student,” she said. “My guess is the property-wealthy districts won’t like this bill because it forces them to consolidate their tax bases with other school districts, and more than likely given the math, their tax rate would go up.”

Mark Trachtenberg, an attorney representing many of the property-rich school districts, including Alamo Heights in Bexar County, confirmed Pace’s suspicions Monday.

“I think it’s a good idea to have a wide-ranging discussion on how we should finance our schools,” said Trachtenberg, who said the proposal “causes some concerns” from a legal standpoint. “I just think this idea is going to be a nonstarter for a lot of my clients.”

None of this means that Aycock’s bill can’t or won’t go anywhere, just that it will take a lot of effort and a lot of compromise to get something resembling consensus. I have more faith in some people working to achieve that consensus than I do in others. K12 Zone and Trail Blazers have more,

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  1. WK Solice says:

    I did a little analysis of the bill last night using the Permissible Range of Wealth algorithm and 2014 wealth vs WADA data from TEA. It looks like over 960 school districts would be required to join School Finance Districts. Take a look at the spreadsheet if you have a chance.

  2. Ross says:

    My initial reaction to this is not positive, since it would likely end up with those of us who live in HISD paying much higher taxes to benefit the suburbs. I also don’t see how it gets past the prohibition on a state property tax.

    This just points out how messed up Texas taxes are, and how badly they are skewed to benefit the wealthy.