Legislature sends $563 million education bill to Abbott


Highlights

The Senate’s version of House Bill 21 is $1.5 billion less than the House’s version.

House Democrats and Republicans expressed disappointment in the Senate’s changes.

Senate Education chairman said that the House’s version was unrealistic.

After hours of closed-door negotiations, the Texas House reluctantly agreed on Tuesday to a Senate plan to inject $351 million into the public education system over the next two years — a far less than House leaders had wanted to spend.

“To say I’m disappointed is an understatement,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, the author of House Bill 21. “The biggest disappointment that all of us has is that we were unable to find the middle ground that would make sense. But I know for a fact that the things that are in here have to be fixed.”

The original version of HB 21 that passed out of the House would have pumped $1.8 billion into the public education system and given almost all public schools extra money, but the Senate voted to gut the bill early Tuesday. With the 94-46 vote in the House, the bill now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott, who Huberty said will sign it.

RELATED: Early gavel at Texas House forces Senate’s hand on property tax reform

“It’s meant as a bridge to get us to next session,” said Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, during consideration of HB 21 Monday night. “The $1.8 billion that came out of the House — that was an unrealistic number based on (the fact) that we’ve already done our budget.”

The Senate’s version of HB 21 creates a $150 million hardship grant program for school districts that are about to lose certain state funding in September. It also would spend $41 million on small school districts and $120 million for construction costs for charter schools and traditional public schools.

On Tuesday, the Senate added to the bill a provision to create a $40 million grant program for public schools that provide innovative services for students with dyslexia and autism.

In addition to what schools would receive, the Senate folded into the bill a $212 million to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers. Retired teachers under 65 are expected to see a deductibles reduce by half of what they were expected to pay (from $3,000 to $1,500) and premiums for them and their children decrease by a $25 per month (from $433 to $408). Retired teachers over 65 are expected to see premiums reduce from $146 per month to $135.

“As I promised, this $563 million funding package will help our retired teachers and address some of the most critical issues facing our schools without tapping either the Rainy Day Fund or the Foundation School Program,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

The Austin school district, which is expected to make $534 million in recapture payments back to the state next school year to help property-poor school districts, would get nothing under the bill sent to Abbott.

Both Democrats and Republicans in the House denounced the Senate’s version of HB 21 Tuesday afternoon. Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said the Senate was pitting school districts against school districts and retired teachers against students with its revisions to HB 21.

“Take back this crap and fix it,” she said. “I don’t like bullies.”

Senate Republicans were unwilling to spend large sums of extra money on public schools without first studying how to make wholesale fixes to the state’s beleaguered school finance system. A state commission to study and make recommendations on the system is a provision in HB 21.

HB 21’s $563 million price tag would be paid with dollars dedicated to Medicaid. The House, which had wanted to tap the $10 billion rainy day fund and education money, has opposed such a method because Medicaid is underfunded by more than a $1 billion.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Texas News & Politics

Lakeway City Council discusses citizen engagement measures
Lakeway City Council discusses citizen engagement measures

A couple city council members want the city of Lakeway to up its efforts at engaging the community, and are proposing several measures to accomplish this. During the Nov. 20 council meeting, Councilwoman Jean Hennagin made a presentation for a Lakeway “engagement committee,” and put forward ideas brainstormed along with Councilman Keith...
Transgender Day of Remembrance held outside Austin City Hall
Transgender Day of Remembrance held outside Austin City Hall

The tone of the Transgender Day of Remembrance event held outside Austin City Hall on Monday evening was, as always, a bittersweet mix of hope and sadness as organizers and attendees proclaimed their pride to be transgender and mourned the loss of transgender individuals who were killed this year. For years, Austin has participated in the international...
EAST AUSTIN FIRE: Mobile home blaze in Bastrop Highway under control, officials say
EAST AUSTIN FIRE: Mobile home blaze in Bastrop Highway under control, officials say

A fire at a mobile home located in East Austin near U.S. 183 is now under control, Austin fire officials said Monday night.  The structure at the 500 block of Bastrop Highway was heavily involved when the fire was reported about 10 p.m., officials said. The mobile home was abandoned and no one was injured, officials said. 
U.S. 183, I-35 projects waver after Abbott, Patrick trash tolls
U.S. 183, I-35 projects waver after Abbott, Patrick trash tolls

Several key Central Texas highway projects — including expansions of U.S. 183 in North Austin, U.S. 290 in Southwest Austin and Interstate 35 through the heart of the area — are once again in limbo after Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last week staked out firm anti-toll positions. “Right now there’s a billion dollars...
UPDATE: Fire at downtown Hilton hotel now out, fire officials say 
UPDATE: Fire at downtown Hilton hotel now out, fire officials say 

11:30 p.m. update: The Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin was partially evacuated Monday night after a dryer malfunction on the third floor, Austin fire officials said. Firefighters responded around 7:15 p.m., and all guests were allowed back in around 10 p.m. The fire was confined to a laundry room, but the fire is estimated to have caused $200...
More Stories