The Senate’s long-stalled plan to apportion a $4 billion reduction in school aid had been suddenly resurrected, passed and zipped over to the House.
But when Senate Bill 1581 hits the House floor Monday for debate, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the bill’s sponsor, said he will have to overhaul it or kill it.
“My intent will be to heavily change this bill … especially the (school) finance piece,” Aycock, R-Killeen , told his colleagues on the House Public Education Committee at a hastily called late-night meeting that ended early Saturday morning. The bill also includes other education-related budget changes, such as a reduction in the state’s contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.
With one week left in the legislative session, the school finance measure is one essential piece of the elaborate budget puzzle that is still up in the air after the House and Senate finally agreed on Friday to spend $80.6 billion in state money over the next two years.
It is a complicated mix of politics and math that will determine how the state divvies up the $32.5 billion pot of aid among the nearly 5 million students in Texas public schools.
At issue is how various school districts were treated under the 2006 school finance reform package, a widely panned change enacted in the wake of a Texas Supreme Court ruling.
The court said lawmakers had enacted an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Lawmakers responded by reducing local school property tax rates by one-third and dedicating more state money to the schools to replace the local money.
So no school district suffered as the balance of state and local money changed, lawmakers essentially froze the level of per-student revenue at what each school district was getting in 2005-06. It was supposed to be a short-term solution but has persisted for five years.
That snapshot captured some districts at an ideal moment, while others were not so lucky. Small and rural districts believe they got a bum deal while many suburban and urban districts have been living high on the hog.
State Sen. Bob Deuell had the numbers to show just how unequal the funding formula has been for different school districts.
[L]awmakers have allowed the system to deteriorate to the point where a child’s school funding largely hinges on the zip code of his or her parents’ home. It would be interesting to see how the state defends that as a rational system for funding public education.
Deuell noted that the top 100 best funded school districts have property tax rates of $1, while the lowest 100 school districts levy an average tax rate of $1.16.
The physician-senator read a list highlighting the lowest and highest revenue per student in each senatorial district.
Senate District 1 (Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler): Lowest, $3,926; Highest, $6,981; Disparity, $3,055 per student.
Senate District 2 (Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville): Lowest, $4,576; Highest, $6,261; Disparity, $1,694.
Senate District 3 (Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville): Lowest, $4,407; Highest, $7,367; Disparity, $2,960.
Senate District 4 (Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands): Lowest, $4,615; Highest, $7,064; Disparity, $2,449.
Senate District 5 (Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan): Lowest, $4,694; Highest, $8,646; Disparity, $3,952.
Senate District 6 (Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,668; Disparity, $778.
Senate District 7 (Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston): Lowest, $4,772; Highest, $6,024; Disparity, $1,252.
Senate District 8 (Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano): Lowest, $5,194; Highest, $7,418; Disparity, $2,224.
Senate District 9 (Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington): Lowest, $4,836; Highest, $5,706; Disparity, $870.
Senate District 10 (Sen. Wendy Davis,D-Ft.Worth): Lowest, $4,797; Highest, $6,880; Disparity, $2,083.
Senate District 11 (Sen. Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte): Lowest, $4,863; Highest, $5,984; Disparity, $1,121.
Senate District 12 (Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound): Lowest, $4,770; Highest, $7,050; Disparity, $2,280.
Senate District 13 (Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,292; Disparity, $402.
Senate District 14 (Sen. Kirk Watson, R-Austin): Lowest, $5,102; Highest, $6,282; Disparity, $1,180.
Senate District 15 (Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,887; Highest, $6,459; Disparity, $1,572.
Senate District 16 (Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas): Lowest, $4,780; Highest, $5,856; Disparity, $1,076.
Senate District 17 (Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place): Lowest, $4,804; Highest, $6,876; Disparity, $2,072.
Senate District 18 (Sen. Glenn Hagar, R-Katy): Lowest, $4,710; Highest, $7,935; Disparity, $3,225.
Senate District 19 (Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,831; Highest, $12,400; Disparity, $8,569.
Senate District 20 (Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen): Lowest, $4,678; Highest, $9,548; Disparity, $4,870.
Senate District 21 (Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo): Lowest, $3,732; Highest, $10,908; Disparity, $7,176.
Senate District 22 (Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury): Lowest, $4,118; Highest, $7,750; Disparity, $3,632.
Senate District 23 (Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas): Lowest, $4,884; Highest, $5,430; Disparity, $546.
Senate District 24 (Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay): Lowest, $3,896; Highest, $6,864; Disparity, $2,968.
Senate District 25 (Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio): Lowest, $4,426; Highest, $6,109; Disparity, $1,683.
Senate District 26 (Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,759; Highest, $5,573; Disparity, $1,814.
Senate District 27 (Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville): Lowest, $4,304; Highest, $7,321; Disparity, $3,017.
Senate District 28 (Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock): Lowest, $4,390; Highest, $12,979; Disparity, $8,589.
Senate District 29 (Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso): Lowest, $4,614; Highest, $5,083; Disparity, $469.
Senate District 30 (Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls): Lowest, $4,425; Highest, $7,488; Disparity, $3,063.
Senate District 31 (Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo): Lowest, $4,432; Highest, $12,387; Disparity, $7,955.
A difference of $1,000 per student can pile up quickly. That kind of disparity amounts to at least $25,000 per classroom.
No one disputed or discounted Deuell’s case. But the prevailing attitude is: ”We’re doing the best we can do this session.”
And if the Lege were a school district, they’d be rated academically unacceptable. Doing your best isn’t good enough if your methodology sucks. This is where the rubber meets the road, and as PDiddie notes, we’ve been down this road before. The Lege isn’t going to fix this problem until it is made up of members that actually care about fixing it in a just, equitable, and adequate fashion. The best we’re going to get out of this Lege is clarity for the next school finance lawsuit.