The retiring Texas House Appropriations and Public Education chairs are gathering their committees for a final time this week to highlight the single biggest issue facing Texas school children.
State Rep. John Otto (R-Dayton) of Appropriations and state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) of Public Education are both leaving their seats before the next legislative session begins. Before they go, they called a two-day hearing this week to speak their minds -- and offer advice.
"What he and I are going to be trying to do is to point out to members of both of our committees that are returning, that look, here's some solutions," Otto told KVUE.
Over the summer, the Texas Supreme Court declined to strike down the so-called "Robin Hood" state school finance system. The court nonetheless warned lawmakers the current system is an abysmal failure, and urged them to action.
When it comes to unintended results, Austin is a prime example.
"Austin is in a sort of unique, untenable position on this," said Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley, who explains Austin's glittering skyline represents a fortune in property taxes. Under Robin Hood, 35 percent of AISD's budget goes to property poor districts; that's $406 million the district doesn't have to educate its students, 60 percent of whom are from economically disadvantaged families.
"While considered property wealthy, most of the families that we serve are not," said Conley. "And because of these outdated funding formulas, only the state benefits from the increases in property taxes."
"If I could give any advice to the committee," Aycock said Wednesday, "It's that when you think of property wealthy or property poor, you need to think in terms of taxable wealth per student, not in the demographic wealth of those students."
The big issue? All the reliance on property taxes has covered up diminishing state funding for schools.
"The burden is shifting to the locals," Otto told the committee. "To me, if you're going to add money to public education, the basic allotment is where you ought to be adding it and let the locals decide how they want to use the money."
"Why don't we just make sure we're increasing the basic allotment," Otto explained to KVUE, "Which is the one place you can put money that raises all boats and it doesn't hurt anybody, and it makes the system more equitable."
An overall funding increase seems unlikely, especially after leaders asked all state agencies to trim their budgets by four percent. Yet that doesn't necessarily preclude a step toward a fix this session.
"If the legislature's unwilling to put in additional funding, we could still restructure the formula such that it sends more money to students who actually need more money," said Monty Exter with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
Both committees will return to the Texas Capitol for public testimony on Thursday. They'll meet in January to address the issue in earnest without two of the most respected leaders in the legislature. It's a situation Aycock acknowledged Thursday with a simple benediction: