School finance commission to seek public input at Monday meeting


Highlights

Monday might be the only opportunity for members of the public to testify before the commission.

Commission’s chairman hopes for ideas on how to make the Texas school funding system more “efficient.”

Members of the public will have a chance Monday to weigh in on how the Legislature should fix the way the state funds public schools.

Scott Brister, head of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which is tasked with providing recommendations to lawmakers by year’s end, said that no other opportunities have been set to allow people to testify before the panel. He said he hopes for input on how to make the school funding system more efficient.

“The finance system is constitutionally tied to efficient school systems, so ideas for making sure every dollar improves student achievement is what we are looking for,” he said.

The meeting will start 9 a.m. at 1701 N. Congress Ave. in Austin. Before the commission allows the public to testify, it has invited 50 people — likely school district administrators and policy experts — to give their input first. Each invited speaker will give five-minute presentations, and members of the public will have three minutes to testify. People can sign up to speak on the day of the meeting or online and for those who can’t attend, written testimony can be submitted to schoolfinancecommission@tea.texas.gov.

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“We have less than a year to gather information and compile an extensive report,” Brister said.

The 13-member commission of educators and lawmakers has been meeting every few weeks this year.

The complicated way Texas public schools are funded has long been criticized as inadequate and outdated, no longer reflecting the expense of teaching large numbers of children who are learning English as a second language and who come from low-income families.

School district officials have complained that they’re relying more on local property taxes for funding while the state has shirked its responsibility. The state’s funding share will be 38 percent next year. Seven years ago, the state funding share was close to 50 percent.

Despite more than a half-dozen lawsuits over the past 30 years, the system has remained essentially unchanged.

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After the latest lawsuit was filed, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the school finance system was constitutional but barely held together by a complicated patchwork of fixes.

Lawmakers created the commission last year, pairing it with a modest school finance bill that included $351 million in school spending and more than $200 million to reduce health care costs for retired teachers.

Urban school districts got little extra from the bill, and Austin got no money even though it is projected to send $534 million in property taxes to the state this year in so-called recapture dollars.

Property-wealthy school districts must send the state recapture money, which is then supposed to be redistributed to property-poor school districts.



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