New legislation filed Monday would add $1.6 billion in school funding, providing a boost to most school districts in Texas over the next two years.
House Bill 21 by state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, would add $210 per student for more than 95 percent of school districts, for a basic allotment of $5,350 per student.
Because lawmakers aren’t likely to pass a top-down reform of the state’s troubled school finance system this session, school districts have been asking lawmakers to increase the basic allotment instead — an easy fix that gives almost every school district a boost.
“House Bill 21 will improve public education in Texas. It provides more resources for schools and distributes those resources in a much smarter way,” Huberty said Monday during a news conference where he was flanked by public school officials and a bipartisan group of House colleagues.
The House Public Education Committee will hold a hearing and take public testimony on the bill Tuesday at noon or shortly after the House adjourns. The speedy turnaround required House members to vote to suspend the body’s rules.
Based on how the state’s complicated funding formula is set up, increasing the basic allotment would decrease the amount of money school districts would pay under the system known as “Robin Hood.” School districts with high property wealth give a portion of their revenue back to the state to be redistributed to school districts with lower property wealth.
Officials from school districts that are subject to these payments — about 249 districts this year — have complained that the payments are disproportionately large because many of their students are poor, aren’t native English speakers and need extra services.
Under Huberty’s bill, the so-called recapture payments would be reduced by $355 million over the next two years — about a 10 percent decline.
The Austin school district has the highest recapture payments — an expected $406 million this school year, nearly a third of the district’s $1.3 billion budget.
Huberty’s bill would add $10 million per year to the Austin district, said Nicole Conley Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer. “While this doesn’t begin to substantially address the district’s budget challenges … it is a step forward,” she said.
Huberty’s bill frees up money to increase the basic allotment by getting rid of pots of money that are intended to help pay for certain things, such as salaries for nonprofessional staff members and initiatives to help improve high schools. School district advocates have said the pots of money are not often used for their intended purposes.
Huberty’s bill also would create a $200 million grant over the next two years to help about 200 school districts whose “hold harmless” funding will end in September. Hold harmless funding has helped more than 1,000 districts since 2006, when the state decreased property tax rates by a third and provided the money to compensate for that loss.
The bill would also give school districts extra money to help students with dyslexia and give more districts — and charter schools, for the first time — money to provide bus service for students.
In total, school districts would receive $1.6 billion more under Huberty’s bill than what the Senate proposed.