School Finance Proposal on Life Support

Posted by Morgan Smith - Texas Tribune on

A school finance plan that would result in an extra $800 million for public education faces dim prospects in the dwindling weeks of the legislative session, a top House lawmaker said Tuesday.

In an interview at the Capitol, Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock said he still hoped the House would debate his legislation to reform the state's school finance systemBut the Killeen Republican added that it has "become abundantly clear" that Senate leaders did not intend to move House Bill 1759 even if it made it to that chamber. 

"It's one of the largest issues before the state, and I hope we get to talk about it," Aycock said."I think a lot of the membership on the House side — and apparently on the Senate side — don’t seem to realize some of the problems we are facing and how big those problems are."

The topic of school finance was largely expected to go unaddressed this legislative session while a massive lawsuit involving more than two-thirds of the state's school districts awaits a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court. Texas school districts filed litigation challenging the state's school finance system after lawmakers slashed more than $5 billion from the public education budget in 2011.

A Travis County district judge ruled in the districts' favor in August — saying the way the state distributes money to districts is unconstitutional because of both inadequate and unequal funding. The state appealed the lawsuit to the high court, which is expected to hear the case this year.  

After months of private discussions and meetings, Aycock said in March that House leaders no longer wanted to wait for a long-needed overhaul of the system. "We had to ask the fundamental question: Do we want to do what's right for the state of Texas and the children of Texas, or do we want to sit around and try to play lawyer and outguess the courts?" Aycock told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

Aycock's subsequent proposal, which seeks to simplify and bring more equity to school district funding across the state, would add $800 million to the $2.2 billion the House has already allocated to public schools. Aycock's committee passed out the bill in late April. Since then, it has yet to be set for a floor debate by the full House. The legislative session ends on June 1. 

Talking about the issues may be all that gets done during the current legislative session, Aycock said. 

"Sometimes the first thing you need to do is identify the problem," Aycock said.  

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/05/12/plan-reform-school-finance-system-life-support/.

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