Texas lawmakers have approved two competing school financing plans that would give teachers raises and lower property taxes—and keep schools open this fall—in an attempt to comply with a state court ruling.
The separate plans from the House and the Senate come after Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the state education budget last month, saying that it did not provide adequate funding for K-12 education under the court ruling. The governor called for a 30-day special session, scheduled to end July 20, to build a new funding formula.
“I’m asking legislators to focus on the three R’s of ‘results, resources, and relief’—results in the classroom, record resources for our schools, and real relief for the property taxpayers of Texas,” Mr. Perry said in a June 23 speech.
It’s the fourth time in three years that the legislature has been called into a special session to deal with the state’s school aid dilemma after court battles. Most recently, a state judge found that the 1993 “Robin Hood” funding formula and property-tax cap were unconstitutional, and set an Oct. 1 deadline to fix the finance system or shut down schools. Arguments in the state’s appeal of that decision also began last week. (“Texas Judge Rules Funds Not Enough,” Sept. 22, 2004)
Gov. Perry, a Republican, is up for re-election next year, and property taxes are likely to be one of the top issues. In addition to a property-tax plan, he has proposed raising the sales tax and taxes on tobacco to increase the K-12 budget by $5 billion each year of the biennium.
State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who intends to challenge Mr. Perry in the GOP primary next year, called his plan “a mess” that would result in a $200 million budget shortfall. But the governor’s office is disputing those figures, and he is expected to call a second special session if the matter is not resolved by July 20.
Both the House and Senate plans would raise teacher pay. The House version offers an increase of $1,500, beginning this coming school year, and the Senate offers a $500 increase for 2005-06 and an additional $1,500 in the 2006-07 school year. Supporters say the plans would increase the state’s $30 billion biennial K-12 budget by at least 3 percent. Both would also lower property taxes.
The Texas Federation of Teachers called the legislative plans “disastrous” because they would ultimately raise taxes without providing more money for schools.