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#WhyGT Updates Jan10 - Feb 14, 2019

The House Public Education Committee met twice this week listening to invited testimony on the recommendations put forth by the Texas Public School Finance Commission.  Many comments were made in testimony expressing concerns over the dozens of changes in the school finance system being considered. After hours of testimony, several themes emerged from the two days of testimony:
Update for February 14, 2019:
This week's update:
  • The House Public Education Committee met twice this week listening to invited testimony on the recommendations put forth by the Texas Public School Finance Commission.  Many comments were made in testimony expressing concerns over the dozens of changes in the school finance system being considered. After hours of testimony, several themes emerged from the two days of testimony:
    • School finance legislation should "lift all boats" and increase the Basic Allotment so that all districts benefit;
    • Tying outcomes-based funding and teacher merit pay to standardized tests concerned many;
    • Repealing of the Cost of Education Index (CEI) and other funding elements could cause will have a ripple effect;
    • Need more state funding for pre-K program; and
    • Pay raises are needed in a manner that allows for local control and that can apply to teachers and other school staff as well.
  • There was even testimony from the past three chairmen of the House Public Education Committee who provided their insight into previous attempts to pass school finance legislation. At the conclusion of the second hearing, Chairman Dan Huberty reminded the committee that they will meet on Tuesday, February 19, to begin hearing bills that have been referred. He said the committee would conduct a second hearing on February 26, and that after that he hopes to have a school finance bill for them to hear. All of this is of course subject to change.
  • As for the Senate Education Committee, there is a possibility Chairman Larry Taylor may introduce his school finance legislation which will likely track the recommendations from the Texas Public School Finance Commission. We will definitely keep you posted. 
 
Update for February 7, 2019:
This week's update:
  • Governor Abbott's State of the State: The Governor named the following emergency issues to be considered immediately: school finance reform, increasing teacher pay, school safety, property tax reform, mental health programs, and disaster response. Emergency items may be considered and adopted within the first 60 days of the session. Abbott also highlighted the need for increased education funding. See the proposed budget here
  • SB 2—Senate Property Tax Committee: Besides school finance reform, property tax reform tops the list of priorities for leadership. The Senate Property Tax Committee will meet at 8 a.m. on Wed., Feb. 6. Municipal and county officials frequently note that school property taxes make up more than half of property tax bills. The plan does not address tax compression of school property taxes, which are expected to be addressed in a separate bill. Notably, the plan is NOT expected to completely reduce tax bills for property owners—rather it would slow the speed at which they increase year over year. The bill would also require all TREs to be held in November and implement various new reporting requirements related to setting and ratifying property tax rates. If local governments want to exceed the 2.5% cap to generate more revenue, it would go to voters for approval. For local governments, local leaders say the caps will stifle their ability to adequately fund police and firefighters
  • House Appropriations Committee (HAC) hears updates on public education funding, Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS): The House Appropriations Committee met Monday to hear invited testimony on public education funding. TRS stated besides a 13th check provided in 2007, no one who retired after 2004 has seen a cost of living adjustment. Staff also noted that to see any cost of living adjustments, there would need to be an additional raise of the contribution rates of 1.8% between the state, school districts, and individual educators
  • Upcoming Hearings
    • Feb. 6—The House Public Education Committee will, upon adjournment of the full House, hear testimony regarding the final report of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The committee will hear invited testimony from certain Commission members. We have yet to see any proposed legislation regarding any of the recommendations stemming from the Commission.
    • Feb. 7—The Senate Committee on Education will conduct an organizational hearing at 10:00 a.m.
    • Feb. 12—The House Public Education Committee's public meeting will review the final report of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Remember, we have yet to see any proposed legislation regarding any of the recommendations stemming from the Commission.
    • Feb. 19—For the first time this session, we will likely see proposed education legislation considered in public hearings by the House Committee on Public Education and the Senate Committee on Education. No official agendas or notices have been posted yet.
 
Update for January 31, 2019:
This week's update:
  • The House Public Education Committee had their first meeting of the session. Mostly organizational, the committee heard from Commissioner Morath on the agency's priorities and the state of Hurricane Harvey relief efforts for school districts impacted by the storm. The Committee will meet on February 5 and 6 to discuss school finance and recommendations from the Texas Public School Finance Commission. No public testimony will be taken. The Senate Education Committee has not scheduled any meetings yet.
  • Proposed legislation have not been considered by any committee yet. Expect bills to be referred to committees next week. House and Senate Committees have been named. For your convenience, here are links to the members to the respective education committees. 
  • Lawmakers will now receive an extra $4,340 to cover their daily expenses during the 140-day legislative session, which started January 8. State lawmakers will now receive roughly $31,000 in per diem over the 140-day session. The figure could grow, however, should a special session be called. The change reflects the 2019 IRS rate for meals and lodging in Austin. Texas lawmakers earn a $600 monthly salary, one of the lowest in the country. But their per diem is among the highest, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
 
Update for January 24, 2019:
This week's update:
  • Speaker Bonnen released House Committee assignments Wednesday. Overall, Democrats made considerable gains. Of the House's 34 standing committees, 12 Democrats were either appointed or retained a chairmanship. Senate committee assignments were announced January 18.
  • The House Public Education Committee will consist of:
    • Chair–Rep. Huberty (R- Friendswood)
    • Vice-Chair–Rep. Bernal (D- San Antonio)
    • Rep. Allen (D-Houston)
    • Rep. Dutton (D- Houston)
    • Rep. King (R- Canadian)
    • Rep. Allison (R-Alamo Heights)
    • Rep. Ashby (R- Lufkin)
    • Rep. Gonzales (D- El Paso)
    • Rep. Sanford (R- McKinney)
    • Rep. Van Deaver (R- New Boston)
    • Rep. James Talarico (D- Round Rock)
    • Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas)
    • Rep. Keith Bell (R-Forney)
  • On February 7, House Bills will be referred to committees which likely means the first public ed hearing will be the week of February 11. 
  • On February 11, 2019, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on Article III of the Senate appropriations bill, which includes TEA and TRS, at 10 a.m. in Room E1.036. Public testimony will be limited to 3 minutes.
  • No school finance bills have been filed yet.
 
Update for January 17, 2019:
This week's update:
  • Governor Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen held a joint press conference where they expressed a shared interest in leading property tax and school finance reform.
  • In the House, Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was officially and unanimously voted by members to be the new House Speaker. Speaker Bonnen reiterated his goals for the session, declaring that school finance reform was where he intended on focusing the House's work. The new Speakers team even placed styrofoam cups in members' lounges with the phrase “School Finance Reform, The Time Is Now.” printed on them.
  •  Legislation cannot be considered until committees are named. The Lt. Governor plans to announce committee assignments early next week, while Speaker Bonnen is expected to announce the House committee assignments by late January. House members turned in their requests for committees yesterday. The House Public Education committee will increase from 11 to 13 members, a move that allows more input from state representatives. The House also consolidated committees from 40 to 34. Legislation will now be funneled into fewer committees.
  • Both House and Senate have released their base budget (first draft). See below.
 
House Introduced Budget Highlights
  • Adds $9 billion for public education, raises school district entitlements, reduces recapture, and provides property tax relief
  • Adds $109 million for school safety measures at various agencies, funding campus security items and mental health resources.
  • Adds $50 million in grants for school districts to provide services to special education students.
  • Public education – $54.5 million for the Safe and Healthy Schools Initiative
  • Higher education – $20.0 million for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center's Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral Program (TWITR)
  • Adds $230 million from the Rainy Day Fund (or Economic Stabilization Fund) to ensure health care premiums for retired teachers do not increase
  • The Comptroller says there will $15.4 billion available in the Economic Stabilization Fund
Senate Introduced Budget Highlights
  • $2.4 billion to fund enrollment growth for public education based on an estimated 65,000 additional students per year
  • $3.7 billion for teacher pay raises
  • $2.3 billion to reduce reliance on recapture, more commonly known as the  "Robin Hood" system
  • combined funding of $7.5 billion for mental health across 21 state agencies, including $100 million in new funding for SB 63 to:
    o   improve identification and access to mental health services for children and youth through behavioral health consultations to pediatricians and primary care providers, and through telemedicine or telehealth programs;
 
Update for January 10, 2019:
This week's update:
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick spoke at the Texas Public Policy Foundation Conference. Without specifying a funding mechanism or revenue source, Patrick proposed an increase in base pay for teachers, an effort to recruit better educators into more Texas schools. Patrick said the Senate will keep the state's current funding level for border security at $800 million.  Also, Patrick called for better relations between the education community and the Legislature. "We have to stop the war" between the two, Patrick said. "Some of it's valid, most of it's not."
  • Gov. Greg Abbott's State of the State address has been scheduled for Feb. 5, according to his office. Abbott will lay out his agenda for lawmakers. Abbott has already made clear that reforming property taxes and school finance are his top priorities for the session. The Texas Senate voted today to create a committee to address property tax reform—a priority that state leaders have promised will take center stage for the next 5 months.
  • Comptroller Hegar issued his biennial revenue estimate informing lawmakers that the state will have close to $9 billion in new money for the coming biennium. Hegar did express concern that a supplemental appropriations bill—in the $4 billion range—may be needed to help cover the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey and rising Medicaid enrollment.
  • The Lt. Governor may announce committee assignments as early as next week. The new Speaker (Rep. Dennis Bonnen) may announce the House committee assignments by late January.
 

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