Welcome to the 86th Legislative Session! The Capitol Update provides you with expert insight and analysis on legislative issues impacting Texas public school students and educators. In this month’s Capitol Update, you’ll find the latest information on this session’s school finance bill, a list of key dates of interest, and some highlights of the remarkable recent advocacy efforts of Texas students, teachers, and community representatives.
Capitol Connections with Michelle
Michelle Smith, Ph.D.
Director of Governmental Relations
There are 10 short days left in the 2019 legislative session and we’re hopeful legislators will finish their work in time to avoid a special session. Here are a few dates of interest if you’re following along:
- May 17: Last day for the House to consider local House bills
- May 21: Last day for the House to consider most Senate bills
- May 24: Last day for the House to act on Senate amendments
- May 25: Last day for the House Bill 3 (school finance bill) conference committee report to be distributed to legislators
- May 26: Last day for the House and Senate to adopt the House Bill 3 conference committee report
- May 27: Last day of the 86th Regular Session (Sine Die)
Raise Your Hand Texas continues to focus on full-day funding for pre-K, flexible funding for districts, opposition to third grade test-based funding, and tax relief that the state can afford. Here is our latest side-by-side bill comparison, our House Bill 3 checklist, and a handy talking points document to use when you’re talking to your elected officials.
Currently, there is enough money in House Bill 3 to fund full-day, high-quality pre-K for all currently eligible students. The House version of the bill also contains flexible dollars for school districts, while the Senate version focuses on an across-the-board teacher raise. Unfortunately, the Senate also added a test-based funding program to their version of the bill that would place the burden of school funding on the backs of third graders. We have responded with a statewide op-ed article as well as a call-to-action, enabling you to contact your House and Senate representatives with your concerns about the proposal in one easy click. Please reach out to your members and ask them to remove outcomes-based funding from the bill, particularly related to 3rd-grade testing. Finally, House Bill 3 contains a concerning property tax reduction proposal, covered in Bob’s update below.
We look forward to updating you again on the impact of the 86th Legislative session after Sine Die. Remember that each of you has an important voice in the legislative process. Continue to communicate with your elected officials both now and after the session is over, thank them for their service, and remind them that you plan to stay engaged as we all advocate on behalf of 5.4 million Texas public school students.
Bob’s Two Cents
Director of Policy
Raise Your Hand appreciates the work members of the Texas Legislature have done this session to craft a comprehensive school finance plan that includes funding for proven programs like full-day pre-K and support for our teachers. With only 10 days remaining in the legislative session, lawmakers must still make final decisions about how to fund teacher pay raises, new programs, school finance formula changes, and property tax relief. It is important members consider both the obligations of the next two years and the long-term needs of our schools and state.
The conference committee is considering a 2.5% revenue cap provision that would have a harmful long-term impact on Texas. If enacted, the state would automatically take any local school district tax collections exceeding a 2.5% increase over the prior year and use this money to buy-down tax rates indefinitely. The cost of this proposal could escalate by an additional $1 billion each year, costing the state upwards of $3 to $4 billion per year in the next four to five years. This open-ended type of property tax reduction is not sustainable for our state or our public schools. While we agree property owners in Texas need tax relief, this approach far exceeds what our state can afford.
The 2.5% revenue cap will also result in very different tax rates in our school districts, which is problematic for several reasons. Districts with rapidly increasing values will have their rates bought down by the state, while those whose values remain flat may receive no assistance. Different tax rates in neighboring school districts will also skew economic development incentives, advantaging some areas over others.
The volatility of Texas’ limited revenue sources requires that each Legislature have the power to determine how the state budget is crafted. If we want to improve our 43rd in the nation ranking in per-student spending, lawmakers must design a school finance system for sustained investment that takes economic realities into account. Districts need a system that provides resources to keep up with inflation and flexible funding to support the ever-changing demands on students, teachers, and school staff. Taxpayers also need consistent property tax relief across the state without favoring some areas over others.
On the Move with Libby
Libby Cohen, Ph.D.
Director of Advocacy and Outreach
Public education advocacy is a team effort. Here’s a quick snapshot of our advocacy work over the last month, by the numbers:
- 7,953 emails sent to legislators on topics like full-day pre-kindergarten and test-based funding
- 15 school districts visited
- 113 phone calls made to legislators
- 18 principal advocacy fellows educating their peers and building support for public education across the state
In addition to our work, organizers of the Just Fund It campaign delivered over 20,000 Love Letter postcards to legislators. While we are so grateful to the thousands of people across the state who participated in these efforts, we’re even more excited about what we can do in the future if we continue to work together.
A great school is the work of many hands, and so is great school advocacy: it takes educators, parents, administrators, students, business people, and philanthropists all working together and listening to one another. The task of advocacy continues after the legislative session ends, and we look forward to further building the capacity of public education champions across the state in the months ahead.
Raise Your Hand offers several resources to keep you in the loop throughout the session:
- Bills are subject to change as they go through the legislative process. Keep up with the updated school finance bills by clicking on our latest side-by-side comparison of House Bill 3.
- Want to know how fellow Texans feel about our education system? Check out the results of our new Texas Public Education Perception Poll.
- Check out our 2019 Session Toolkit. The toolkit is updated daily with our latest policy materials, including graphics that you are encouraged to use and share.
- Join us in standing up for public schools! Sign up to get involved by texting RAISEMYHAND to 40649 or by filling out our form on our advocacy page.