Education chair rolls out school finance reform package
By Richard Lee
For the Fort Bend Star
The Senate Education Committee heard testimony Tuesday evening on a bill that would drastically change the current school funding formula.
Often criticized for its complexity and inaccessibility to lay people, the current formula uses a number of complex calculations, multipliers, exceptions, tax thresholds and valuations to arrive at the amount of money each school district receives to educate its students. Senate Bill 2145, by Education Committee Chair and Friendswood Senator Larry Taylor, would reduce the formula to one line.
“[SB] 2145 establishes a fresh start for school finance by removing inefficiencies and creating a funding system based on actual costs and that takes taxpayer effort into consideration,” said Taylor.
The bill would repeal all or part of 49 separate sections of the education code, and put projected savings from efficiencies back into the system. What’s left is the sum of five instructional allotments: the regular program allotment, which is based on the basic allotment determined at the state level, and allotments for special education, career and technology, compensatory education and bilingual education. This amount is then multiplied by the local school property tax rate, and that, plus a transportation cost allotment, is how much a district would get every year.
The formula is designed to take into account local tax effort. Districts could hold elections to increase local property taxes up to the current cap of $1.17, and would receive more money commensurate with each penny increase. Each penny is worth 1 percent of the total instructional allotment; a district that taxes at $1.05 would get 5 percent more than a district that taxes at $1.
Conversely, districts that can operate on less money could lower the tax rate. Because the formula is based on tax effort rather than property values or yearly tax collections, the bill is intended to give district officials more certainty in budgeting from year to year.
This bill was part of a package of bills presented by Senator Taylor dealing with school formula funding and finance system. Also before the committee was SB 2144, which would create a blue ribbon panel made up of appointees, legislators and experts to examine and recommend changes to the system.
SB 2142 would repeal the “high school allotment” and put that money back into formula funding to give districts more flexibility. Finally, SB 2143 would increase the per student basic allotment, the basic amount used to calculate formula funding up about $400 to $5,120 to reflect the value used in the budget last session. All these bills remain pending before the committee.
In session Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that would permit homeschooled students to participate in UIL public school athletic competitions and other UIL activities. Plano Senator Van Taylor told colleagues his bill, SB 640, would give these children the opportunity to participate in activities their parents are already paying for.
“Senate Bill 640 is about fairness and opportunity,” he said. “Just as homeschool families pay taxes to local school districts, their children should be afforded the opportunity to participate in taxpayer-funded UIL activities.”
The bill would require these homeschoolers to complete one of several nationally recognized standardized tests to verify they are performing at appropriate grade level and in order to hold them to similar participation standards as public school students. He emphasized that the testing rule would only apply to students that wish to participate in UIL, not all homeschooled students. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.