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Texas Senate pitches simplified school funding formula


State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, wants to eliminate elements of the current funding formula

Taylor also wants to create a commission to provide recommendations on changes to the school finance system

The day before the House is slated to consider its big school finance fix, the Senate education panel weighed even loftier changes to the complicated and outdated school funding formula on Tuesday.

Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has proposed a package of bills that would make substantial changes to funding formula, including eliminating several components of it. Although it’s unlikely that such a substantial change will be approved this legislative session, it could be considered more seriously in the future when the Legislature explores school finance fixes during the interim and following sessions.

“It completely restructures the current Foundation School Program, removing Band-Aids and inefficiencies to create a simplified, understandable school finance system,” Taylor said.

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Senate Bill 2145 would reduce the school finance formula from two tiers to one tier and eliminates certain pots of money that have been given to school districts for certain students, like gifted and talented and high school students, instead using one pot of money for all students. Under the proposed formula, districts would be funded based on their tax rate. The goal is to simplify the formula and level the playing field for all districts, according to the Austin-based advocacy organization Equity Center, from whom Taylor has adopted the idea for his bill.

The bill would still allow districts to receive extra funding based on the number of poor students and students in special education, bilingual education and career and technology classes. School districts also would receive transportation funding. Property-wealthy school districts would still have to pay back to the state excess money to be redistributed to property-poor districts.

Because the formula seeks to equalize how much funding all districts get, some would see funding levels decrease.

The bill has seen some pushback from people who want school districts to receive a pot of money set aside for gifted and talented programs.

“We’re not cutting any money from gifted and talented. It is still up to the local district,” Taylor said.

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Taylor also has proposed SB 2142 that would eliminate the high school allotment from the school funding formula and roll it into the basic allotment. He has another measure — SB 2143 — to increase the basic allotment per student permanently to $5,140. Although all school districts started getting that money after legislative action last session, it’s not promised.

Another Taylor bill — SB 2144 — would create an 11-member commission that would make recommendations to the Legislature about fixes to the school finance formula.

On Wednesday, the House is expected to debate House Bill 21, which is the House’s proposal to fix the school finance formula. It wouldn’t go as far as SB 2145 but it would increase funding to most school districts in Texas by a total of $1.6 billion over the next two years.

The bill would increase the basic amount of money that school districts receive by $210 per student to $5,350 over the next two years. School districts would also receive more money for students with dyslexia.

The bill would additionally create a $200 million “hardship provision grant” that helps cash-strapped school districts.

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