The 2017 legislative session recently ended and, as if on cue, education bureaucrats began pushing out misinformation, insisting that the state cut funding for public schools. You may have seen it in the media or maybe even heard it directly from your local school officials. Here are the facts:
Texas spends $60 billion on schools in our two-year budget including both federal and state funds — and $41 billion of that is state funding. That is on top of the estimated $28 to $30 billion annually that is paid by local property taxpayers. When colleges and universities are added, education spending is the biggest item in the state budget – about 52 percent of all state dollars. Health care is second, accounting for most of the remaining dollars. It is disingenuous to suggest that we are, somehow, holding back funding that we could spend on our schools.
Senate Bill 1, the state budget, fully funds the state’s Foundation School Program — the state share of school funding. It also provides funding for the estimated 80,000 new students who are projected over the next two years.
The state’s school funding formula is based in part on property values in each school district. In the Senate, we passed a property tax relief program that would have required local entities to get a vote of the people anytime they increased property tax rates beyond five percent. Had this passed, property tax rates would decrease over time. Unfortunately, the property tax reform proposal was killed in the Texas House.
Misinformation is also being put out about the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) program that was established in 2006 by the legislature to help off-set low property values in some districts. Most districts no longer qualify for these funds. Currently, only 267 of the 1,246 school districts in Texas are ASATR Districts.
ASATR has long been slated to expire this year and the state budget, which was approved by a vote of 135 to 14 in the Texas House and 30 to 1 in the Texas Senate, did not include additional funds for it. School districts have known for six years that ASATR would expire in 2017.
In the Senate, we passed House Bill 21, which would have included $532 million in additional school funding, including $150 million to help bridge the funding gap for ASATR districts for the next two years. There was also additional facilities funding for charter schools and traditional school districts.
However, House Bill 21 also included $50 million for a small school choice program for children with disabilities. The Texas House killed that proposal too. The House turned down over a $500 million in additional school funding rather than use a tiny percentage of school funding to allow a disabled child somewhere in Texas to attend a private school.
But the big joke in the school finance debate is that the House version of House Bill 21 put an additional $1.85 billion into education. What they didn’t tell you was their $1.85 billion would have come from current funding for the schools they were trying to help. They were, literally, robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Senate rejected that phony plan.
Before I was elected lieutenant governor, I served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Public education has been a priority for me since I began serving in public office. School finance is an issue I know well and these are the facts.