AUSTIN – Texas House Speaker Joe Straus called on two House committees Thursday to jointly study key aspects of the state’s school finance system and make recommendations before the next legislative session.
Speaker Straus gave two new interim charges to the House Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Public Education. The charges follow a recent Texas Supreme Court opinion that the state’s education finance system, while constitutional, is “undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.” They also build on Speaker Straus’ earlier calls for the Public Education Committee to study the Cost of Education Index and school districts’ facility needs.
“We can improve educational quality while also making our school finance system more efficient,” said Speaker Straus, San Antonio. “Ignoring some of the problems in our current system will only make them worse. School finance reform never comes quickly or easily, which is why this work needs to continue sooner rather than later.”
The first charge to the two committees reads as follows: “Current law requires the elimination on September 1, 2017, of Additional State Aid for Tax Relief (ASATR), which was intended to offset the cost of tax-rate compressions enacted in 2006. Review how this loss of funding would impact school districts.”
ASATR is funding that the state provided to school districts in order to encourage them to reduce their tax rates to $1.00 per $100 in property valuation in 2006. State law calls for that money to go away in 2017 unless the Legislature acts. In the current school year, ASATR funding provides an estimated $350 million to the state’s public education system.
The second charge reads as follows: “Study the use of local property taxes to fund public education and its effects on educational quality and on Texas taxpayers. Specifically, recommend ways to reverse the increasing reliance on recapture payments to fund public education statewide.”
As property values have increased, more school districts have become subject to recapture, meaning that some of their local property tax dollars are sent back to the state and distributed to school districts with less property wealth. For example, the Houston Independent School District is now facing the prospect of sending a recapture payment of $175 million to the state in 2017. Since 2006, the number of school districts paying recapture has increased from 142 to 238.
“It’s important that we keep local tax dollars in local districts as much as possible, while still ensuring that all students have access to quality public schools,” Speaker Straus said.
Last fall, when Speaker Straus issued interim charges to all House committees, he asked the Public Education Committee to study the Cost of Education Index, which is another key component of the state’s school funding formulas. He also called on the Committee to study schools’ facility needs and debt, particularly in fast-growing areas. Combined with those studies, the newly issued charges will allow the House to take a thorough look at school finance when the Legislature convenes in January 2017.
“The Supreme Court made clear that our school finance system can be improved,” Speaker Straus said. “The House will continue working toward better schools for our students and a more efficient funding system for taxpayers.”