Finance Bills Head to Conference in Texas
The Texas House last week approved a five-year, $5-billion school-finance bill.
The measure, which was passed by a 106-to-37 vote, would provide $450 million in new aid for the upcoming school year.
The Senate bill, which was approved April 3, also sets a $5-billion price for school-finance reform. But it would allocate the entire sum over three years, and calls for $1.2 billion in its first year of implementation. The two measures also differ on several school-reform issues unrelated to finance.
Members of the House and Senate education committees began negotiations last week to reconcile the bills.
They may not have much time. In its decision last year striking down the school-finance system, the state supreme court set a May 1 deadline for the legislature to devise a fairer method of funding the state's schools. Some lawmakers, however, are seeking ways to extend that deadline.
The bill also faces the prospect of a veto by Gov. William P. Clements Jr., who has described as "unrealistic" the amount of new aid sought under the Senate measure. Mr. Clements also dislikes parts of the House bill, according to his spokesman.
School Councils in Houston
One notable provision in the House bill, but not in the Senate's, is an amendment co-sponsored by 17 Houston-area lawmakers. It would require the Houston school system to adopt reforms similar to those implemented this year in Chicago.
Under the bill, each of the Houston district's 233 schools would elect councils composed of parents, teachers, community members, and the school principal. The panels would have the power to hire and fire the school's principal and devise a school-improvement plan.
An aide to the conference committee said, however, that the Houston amendment was unlikely to remain in the final version of the bill.
The House bill also provides for selection of the state commissioner of education by the governor, instead of by the state board of education.
In addition, the House measure would require the state to pay for any mandates it imposes on local districts, retroactive to the beginning of this year.
Whatever bill comes out of confer8ence this week, lawmakers said, the legislature will have to find a way to fund it.
Funding Sources Sought
Since Mr. Clements has stated on several occasions he is opposed to new taxes, the House appropriations committee last week identified about $167 million in the current budget that could be reallocated to education.
The committee suggested shifting funds from the Capitol-restoration fund and the state's rainy-day fund. It also said the state should collect funds from dormant bank accounts and void some state-issued checks that have not been cashed.
Meanwhile, two groups of lawmakers were trying last week to win more time to craft a new funding formula.
Two lawmakers introduced a bill ordering the state comptroller to release all available education funds April 28. That would allow schools to remain open through May even if the court orders all funding halted on May 1.
Eight other lawmakers have filed a request in Travis County District Court asking the judge hearing the state's school-finance suit to extend the legislature's deadline to Aug. 1.