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Texas House Rejects School Bill; New Session Called

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The Texas House has rejected legislation to equalize the state's school-funding formula, forcing lawmakers to begin a second special session this week to fashion a plan by the court-imposed May 1 deadline.

Prospects for a fast settlement of the state's school-finance debate dimmed on March 22, when the House defeated the finance proposal. They darkened completely at midnight on March 28, when the legislature's first special session expired without House leaders having reached a consensus on a new plan.

The outlook for quick action in the second special session, which was called by Gov. William P. Clements Jr., was uncertain late last week.

"It's a very fluid situation," said an aide to Representative Ernestine V. Glossbrenner, chairman of the House public-education committee. "Things happen very quickly and mysteriously."

The Senate probably will move rapidly on its version of the bill. During the first special session, senators approved a $5-billion plan, which they are expected to reapprove and submit again to the House. (See Education Week, March 28, 1990.)

The House, meanwhile, is beginning the committee-hearing process anew. House aides said they did not know how soon a bill would be ready for debate.

The Senate plan would earmark $1.3 billion for the 1990-91 school year, while the bill turned down by the House called for $511 million.

Last week, Speaker of the House Gib Lewis directed four committees--ways and means, appropriations, education, and state affairs--to undertake "full and complete examinations" of current state expenditures and revenue sources.

Consideration of the school-finance issue may be complicated by the discovery of a projected $700-million shortfall in the state's human-services department, the Speaker said.

State Spending Probe

"It has become apparent that in addition to addressing the issue of public-school finance, this legislature must also conduct an extensive review of existing state spending priorities and revenue options," said Mr. Lewis.

To the relief of state leaders, however, the new session will not have to wrestle with the issue of judicial elections, which lawmakers previously had been under a court order to consider this spring. A federal circuit-court ruling last week will allow the legislature to put aside that topic, probably until the fall, according to a spokesman for the Governor.

While the Governor's call for the session includes the judicial-election issue, the court decision "provides the legislature with sorely needed time" to study the matter further, Mr. Clements said in a statement.

Several Factors in Defeat

The House debated its finance-reform bill for more than 12 hours before defeating it on a 101-to-45 vote.

Observers cited several factors in the bill's defeat. Some Democrats thought it did not provide enough money. Some Republicans thought it provided too much.

Other members may have been so confused after hours of debate and more than 120 amendments that they did not know exactly what they were voting on, observers said.

In a statement, Mr. Lewis said he hoped the House would move quickly in the new session to approve a school-finance bill.

"Each member of the legislature has had the opportunity to make known his or her respective ideas for a school-finance plan," he said. "It is now time to move the process forward and begin the final stages of drafting a new funding mechanism for public schools in Texas."

The special session will last 30 days. In its Oct. 2, 1989, decision, the Texas Supreme Court ordered the legislature to devise a new school-funding plan by May 1.

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