Texas House Speaker Straus Calls for Better Education Funding Formula

(Photo: Andrew Pons, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Andrew Pons, Creative Commons)

Although the Texas Supreme Court decided that the state’s public school funding system was acceptable, it also called it “undeniably imperfect.” Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss (R-San Antonio) ordered Texas representatives to review the school finance policies and recommend reforms before the 2017 legislative session.

“We can improve educational quality while also making our school finance system more efficient,” Straus said in a news release. “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.”

Straus asked the House Public Education and Appropriations committees to look at a soon-to-expire provision that has designated dollars to compensate for mandated property tax cuts. He also requested that the legislative panels study “the use of local property taxes to fund public education and its effects on educational quality and on Texas taxpayers.”

A news release from Straus explained that because property taxes have gone up, more districts have had some of their local property tax funds sent back to the state to give to schools with lower property wealth, which is called recapturing. The release included the fact that the number of districts paying these monies to the state has increased since 2006 from 142 to 238.

Strauss is the first leader in Texas to call for reform following the state Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the school-funding system as constitutional. He is also appealing to lawmakers to create “transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid.”

A Star-Telegram editorial says that Straus wants to know what will happen when a finance provision, the Additional State Aid for Tax Relief (ASATR) adopted in 1996, stops delivering its $350 million to districts next year. Still, this amount is tiny compared to the $51 billion in state, federal, and local funding that goes to schools in Texas.

Straus also wants to know how to reverse the growing reliance on recapture payments to support public education across the state. Recapture money amounts to $1.2 billion in 2014, which is the last time figures were published by the Texas Education Agency.

Houston’s district, the largest in the state, is one of a growing number of involuntary donors and is looking at a payment to the state of $175 million for the next academic year. This sort of situation may be the first step toward getting rid of the recapture, or as some call it the “Robin Hood,” policy.

Speaker Straus believes that it is crucial for the state to keep local tax dollars in local districts, while providing quality public schools to all students in Texas, reports the Houston Chronicle’s Mike Ward.

Despite the fact that big-city districts like Dallas and Houston have their individual share of low-income and non-English speaking student, the cities still have to transfer some of their property tax money to the state so that it can redistribute the funds to property-poor districts.

Apart from the homework that Straus gave lawmakers at the end of the legislative session, there were more issues the speaker had assigned to legislators for review last fall. They included having the Public Education Committee to study the Cost of Education Index, a critical component of the state’s school funding formulas. He also asked the committee to research schools’ facility maintenance and debt, especially in areas that are fast-growing.