Senate panel strips down House's school finance plan
AUSTIN -- Public education advocates in Texas had high hopes for a House bill that promised to send $1.8 billion to Texas schools, but that plan is getting drastically scaled back after a Senate panel cut the funding to $311 million.
"There's nothing more important than making sure we have well-educated children," said Sen. Bob Hall, an Edgewood Republican.
But the standoff between the Texas House and Senate over the best way to achieve that could mean another stalemate over how to improve the state's troubled school finance system.
"It's set this false expectation that the House had created 1.8 billion dollars but unfortunately that's not the case," said Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican.
Friday, the Senate Education Committee unveiled their significantly scaled-back version of the House's school finance plan. While the House's proposal relied on delaying certain payments to school districts, the Senate's funding source would come from delayed payments to Medicaid.
"We've got to get more productivity out of every dollar we spend on education," said Taylor. He then says he wants to work with House members on a funding compromise.
Still, public school advocates aren't pleased
"It's really just a couple pockets of money for districts in very specific situations, but it doesn't spread the money evenly or equitably across school districts," said Chandra Villanueva, a senior policy analyst for the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Additionally, around 1500 school trustees and superintendents sent a letter to the Lt. Governor, urging the Senate to take up the House's more generous plan. But the Senate prefers first studying school finance through a commission that would then make recommendations to the Legislature.
Another controversial difference between the two chambers’ school finance plans: the Senate's version would send $60 million to charter schools to construct facilities.
"Charter schools receive zero dollars today in facilities funding, so any movement that the senate can help to move us in a better direction to get facilities funding would be fantastic," said NYOS Charter School Executive Director Kathleen.
Sen. Taylor says he hopes to bring his bill to the Senate floor Saturday and expects the upper chamber to vote it out completely in the same day. But finding common ground between the House and Senate with only days left leaves little hope of any billion dollar school finance fix this year.