AUSTIN, Texas — Lawmakers at the Texas Capitol on Wednesday nearly unanimously passed House Bill 3 (HB3), a comprehensive school finance reform bill.
The bill injects a total of $9 billion into the public school finance system. School districts would receive an additional $6.3 billion, which includes money to increase the base amount the state puts in to educate each child by $890 per student. That money would also fund full-day pre-K for low-income four-year-olds in most districts. HB3 also includes $2.7 billion in tax relief by compressing district tax rates. It also reduces recapture, the amount of money property wealthy districts, like Austin ISD, send the state each year to help property-poor districts.
A significant amendment by Representative Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) was unanimously adopted during Wednesday's debate. It requires districts use at least 25 percent of their basic allotment increases to give all full-time school district employees a raise, with the exception of administrators. Rep. Turner says that comes out to an average of $1,850 each per year.
His proposal greatly differs from Senate Bill 3 (SB3) which gives all public school teachers and counselors a $5,000 raise. SB3 passed the Senate unanimously earlier in the session.
"I'm confident the Senate will see this is a better way to guarantee long-term and sustainable salary increases," Rep. Turner said. "The $5,000 one-time pay increase is not necessarily sustainable, and it doesn't do anything for the future. Whereas what our amendment will do it is say there's a pay increase now and anytime the basic allotment goes up in the future, pay goes up as well."
Rep. Mary Gonzalez authored two other amendments to the bill she said would help support students with disabilities.
One increased the special education weight from 1.1 to 1.15, meaning more funding will be provided to students with special education resources. Texas will now guarantee maintenance of financial support for special education, Rep. Gonzalez said.
Governor Greg Abbott called the bill a "vital step" toward meaningful reforms.
"By reducing recapture, investing more money in our schools and in our teachers, the Legislature is making changes that will have a lasting impact on our education system and, more importantly, our students," he said in a statement. "I applaud Chairman Huberty and Speaker Bonnen for their work to pass this bill, and I look forward to working with Senator Taylor, Lt. Governor Patrick and the entire Legislature to ensure the final passage of school finance reform this session."
The school finance reform bill passed committee in March after lawmakers took out merit-based teacher raises, which several teacher groups opposed.
It will now move to the Senate for consideration. Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) said the two chambers are already working together.
"Today, we send House Bill 3 to our friends in the Senate. Who I want to tell you, before you ask the questions, we're having great conversations with our friends in the Senate," Speaker Bonnen said. "And we expect them to pick up House Bill 3 and do what happens in this process and that is put their take on school finance on it. And they should because that's what we would do."
If the Senate makes changes to the bill and votes to approve it, members of the House and Senate will meet in a Conference Committee to hash out the differences, then each chamber will vote on the bill again.
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