Two Special Sessions Fail to Produce Aid Overhaul
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2004 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
For Texas legislators, the third time wasn’t the charm.
After coming close to adopting a new school finance system in their regular session, lawmakers left the Capitol this month after a second special session without a school finance bill or any other notable accomplishments in K-12 education.
The lawmakers now are awaiting word from the state supreme court about whether their current school funding formula is constitutional.
They started their biennial regular session in January, and agreed that the current system is unpopular because it relies on skyrocketing property taxes and requires wealthy districts to share their revenue with poor ones. A trial judge has also declared the system unconstitutional because it fails to provide enough funding for the state’s neediest students.
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and other state leaders thought that would be enough of an impetus to rewrite the system before the state’s highest court rules on the case. After the regular session ended in July, Mr. Perry vetoed the K-12 budget the legislature had sent him and convened a special session to deal with school finance.
When the legislators failed to produce a new finance system in 30 days, he called them back again.
At several points, lawmakers came close to agreeing to a way to distribute education money, but they couldn’t reach a compromise on how to generate new revenues that would replace their proposed property-tax cuts.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican and the state Senate’s president, blamed lobbyists, especially those in the energy industry, for blocking business taxes.
Speaker of the House Tom Craddick, also a member of the GOP, said during the second special session that the Senate’s bill didn’t include “meaningful property-tax relief and proper education reforms.”
“We should not pass a bill just to present the appearance that some action has been taken,” he said.
After the legislature adjourned the second time, Gov. Perry used his executive authority to implement some of his proposals. The most important one will be new rules that require districts to spend 65 percent of their money on classroom expenses.
The fate of the school finance system now lies in the hands of the Texas Supreme Court, which heard arguments on the state’s appeal in July. State officials expect a decision this fall. ("Texas Ends ’05 Session Without School Aid Rewrite," June 8, 2005)
In the biennial budget passed during the second session, the legislature appropriated $36.8 billion for K-12 education in fiscal years 2006 and 2007. That’s a 6.2 percent increase over the previous biennium.
Vol. 25, Issue 01, Page 26