By Richard Lee, Texas Senate News
The leaders of the House and Senate joined Governor Greg Abbott in front of the Governor’s mansion Wednesday to announce they are committed to passing significant changes to the way the state finances its public schools. This would entail major changes to the primary revenue source for education in Texas, local property taxes. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and new House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said they will work with each other to deliver what Abbott called a “transformative” bill for his signature.
“If the three of us are aligned, that we’re going to accomplish a mission, and pass legislation, it happens,” said Patrick. “This is not just a message to the public and to the media, but I think our members will take note, that this is really unprecedented, that we’re addressing these issues beginning of session, totally united with one another.” Patrick added he predicts that this will be the best session in the history of Texas.
Bonnen and Patrick, who preside over the House and Senate respectively, will set the agenda in their chambers, but both acknowledged the actual plan will be generated by the members in each body. As for what could be included in the eventual reform package, the Legislature held joint meetings over the interim to take input from stakeholders and come up with a plan aimed at both improving the quality of education while fixing the complicated and counterintuitive school finance system. The Commission on Public School Finance released this report in December.
The report suggests reallocating $3.5 billion in existing state resources away from outdated programs or obsolete hold-harmless provisions into new strategies for improving education. It calls for a halt to the continuing decrease in state resources allocated towards public education, and directing more money towards students who need it most, such as low-income, special needs and English language learners. The Commission also recommended a complete overhaul of the formulae that determine how education dollars are allocated to districts and campuses.
In session Wednesday, the Senate approved the new rules which are largely unchanged from last session. Also, members agreed to create a new Committee on Property Taxes, which will likely head up the Senate’s efforts on property tax reform. Some other committee changes include splitting the seven member Committee on Agriculture, Water and Rural affairs into two committees, one five member panel for agriculture and one seven member body for water and rural concerns. Additionally, the Criminal Justice Committee will lose two members, going to a total of seven.
Unchanged from last session is the three-fifths rule, the rule that means that no bill can come before the body unless 19 of the 31 members agree, or three-fifths of those present.