Texas lawmakers are struggling to reach an agreement on how to reform how schools are funded in the Lone Star State.
After 146 amendments and five months in the 86th session of the Texas Legislature, House Bill 3 is finally headed to conference committee, where Texas state senators and representatives will hash out their differences on how to fund teacher pay raises, provide meaningful property tax relief, and increase per-student spending on education.
The chambers agree in principle on each of these areas, but differ in the methods of achieving these outcomes.
The senate has proposed a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for all full-time teachers and librarians, while the House has designated money for raises at the discretion of each school district and instructed the districts to give all employees approximately $1,388 in raises. This impacts the size of the basic allotment, which sets per-student spending by the state. The basic allotment in the senate is lower and higher in the house, because the senate version allocates direct funding for the higher teacher raise.
The chambers also disagree on property tax relief, wrangling over the compression rate and whether to use current year or prior year valuation in calculating school taxes. The chambers agree on the need for a property tax cap, but have not reformed the appraisal system; which means homeowners could see a slower increase in their property tax rates, but if their home value increases they could still pay more in property taxes.
Rob D’Amico, communications director for the Texas Federation of Teachers, the state affiliate of American Federation of Teachers, told Reform Austin the organization is keeping a close eye on House Bill 3. The bill’s final form gives Texas teachers an across-the-board $5,000 raise, but remains undecided.
“We don’t know what’s happening with it right now,” D’Amico said. “It’s in the hands of the Speaker, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor.”
The union, which represents 65,000 members across the state, will continue to advocate for higher teacher pay funded into the future, as well as for bonuses which are not completely dependent on students’ STAAR test results, he added.
As a result of the disagreements between the House and Senate, a conference committee was called, with five members selected from the respective chambers to serve on the committee. House members appointed include Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice Chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Rep. Mary González (D-Clint), and Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian). Senate members appointed include Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), and Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).
In conference committees, members’ responsibility is solely to resolve the differences between the chambers – they are unable to modify or eliminate text common to both bills. When a compromise is reached on areas of disagreement, a report is prepared for each chamber. The report must be approved by at least three of the five committee members from each chamber. The house and senate must either accept or reject the entire report, and neither chamber can make amendments.
Earlier in the regular session, if either chamber were to reject the conference committee report, the bill could return to the committee with the same members (or new members, if decided). If a resolution cannot be reached by the committee, the bill is “dead”. The problem now, with little time left in the session for further committee action, legislators feel forced to do “something” and millions of Texas students and families will not receive meaningful property tax relief or school finance reform.
Conference Committee Reports (CCRs) must be printed and distributed to their chamber members before midnight on Saturday, May 25th. Sunday, May 26th, is the last day for the chambers to accept or reject CCRs, meaning legislators have less than 72 hours to make a final decision on one of the most important issues of the 86th legislative session.
Gov. Greg Abbott named education as one of his emergency items for this session, and legislators are down to the wire. There are rumors in the Capitol if an agreement is not negotiated, a special session is likely.