School finance plan now in the hands of a conference committee

(Architects of the school finance plans: Sen. Larry Taylor, left, and Rep. Dan Huberty. Photo: Stephen Spillman/San Antonio Express-News)

Monday’s passage of the Senate school finance plan leaves us with a mixed bag of proposals heading to the end of the session on May 27. Here’s the coverage from the Dallas Morning News, Texas Tribune, Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman on the Senate plan, which passed the Senate 27 to 2, with 2 present and not voting.

First the good in the bill: the House and Senate are on the same page with the roughly $6 billion in new education funding overall — both in per pupil spending and educator pay raises. Also funded in both plans would be full-day pre-K for low-income students, along with a host of updates to finance formulas. Still included in the bill is a $5,000 pay raise for full-time classroom teachers and librarians.

Now the bad: Attempts by some senators to add counselors, diagnosticians and nurses to the pay raise were voted down. A conflict still exists with the House version of the plan, which would provide more funding to districts with a portion of that funding guaranteed for local pay raises for all school employees. And although our allies in the Senate drafted amendments to nix the bill of pay-for-test score provisions, and outcomes-based funding, all failed. Here’s the Dallas Morning News summary:

The House plan originally included the same Senate merit pay plan, but it was cut after teacher groups and Democrats raised objections.
During the Senate debate, Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, unsuccessfully tried to cut merit pay from the bill, saying it relies on unreliable state testing and pits teachers against one another.
Taylor said he believes merit pay is one of the “most dramatic and impressive” ways to increase student achievement.
Another major difference is the Senate’s inclusion of outcomes-based funding, which awards bonus money to elementary schools with third-graders who read on grade level and high schools whose graduates enroll in college or join the military.
Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, said the bonuses would direct money to the wealthiest districts with the fewest academic challenges.
“We are further widening the gap between the haves and have-not schools,” she said. “The already wealthy districts will receive the lion’s share of the money.”
Powell’s amendment to strike the funding failed.

What’s next? The state Senate passage of its school finance plan puts the future of school funding and educator pay largely in the hands of 10 people — five members from the House and five from the Senate that are on a conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers’ plans.

Those conferees are:

House — Representatives Dan Huberty, Trent Ashby, Diego Bernal, Mary Gonzalez and Ken King

Senate — Senators Larry Taylor, Jane Nelson, Donna Campbell, Royce West and Kirk Watson

A final note on sales taxes….

One significant objection we had to the overall plans for property tax relief in the school finance bills seems to have disappeared. We were ready to provide a lot of coverage — not to mention an official state legislative report — showing how a sales tax would be harmful for the poorest of Texans while providing the most tax relief to wealthier Texans. (And in a strange confluence of opposition, conservatives didn’t like it because it would raise a tax.) But within a couple days of a press conference by the Big 3 — governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker — to cheerlead for the sales tax increase (a one percent hike to help reduce property tax rates), the Senate had rejected the idea.

The move spurred considerable tension between the House and Senate, which you can read about here: Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News.

Best of the rest…

“Betsy DeVos Has a Lot of Nerve” (Splinter, May 7, 2019)

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an immensely wealthy person who has seemingly never actually worked a day in her life towards any cause other than destroying public education, thinks that public school teachers should fight for better working conditions on “adult time.”

“Feds visit Houston, Spring Branch ISDs for special education review” (Houston Chronicle, May 7, 2019)

“Texas lawmaker calls vaccines ‘sorcery,’ verbally attacks prominent advocate” (Houston Chronicle, May 8, 2019)

“House Democrats seek cut in federal charter school funding, saying Education Department isn’t a ‘responsible steward of taxpayer dollars” (May 7, 2019)

by Rob D’Amico, Texas AFT Communications Director
(Follow on Twitter @damicoaustin and @TexasAFT)