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John C. Moritz/USA TODAY Network Austin Bureau
The two chambers have until Wednesday to reach a compromise if the state’s school finance system is to be overhauled.
AUSTIN — The school finance plan that appeared headed toward passage in the Texas Senate on Saturday falls far short of what’s needed to fix the state’s troubled system for paying for public education, the author of the House’s version said.
But state Rep. Dan Huberty, the Houston area Republican who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said that doesn’t mean school finance overhaul is dead for the special legislative session that ends Wednesday.
“We’re prepared to do a deal, but that ain’t the deal,” Huberty told the USA Today Network about the plan pending in the Senate. “Their plan, as it stands now, isn’t going to cut it.”
The Senate version of Huberty’s House Bill 21 would pump an additional $311 million in state money into the school finance system. The version that passed the House calls for $1.8 billion more for the public schools.
Lawmakers have been grappling with how to address school finance all year. And that is a continuation of a generation-long effort to find a way to make sure the state meets its constitutional obligation to provide an “adequate” education for the children of Texas.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the present plan, which relies heavily on local property taxes to pay for public schools. But the high court said the system, which requires school districts rich in property wealth to share tax revenue with less well-off districts, is still flawed and encouraged the Legislature to improve it.
House Speaker Joe Straus pushed the lower chamber during the regular session to begin working on an overhaul. The House obliged, but the effort fizzled when the Senate added a provision that would allow for a school voucher system to be enacted. The House has long opposed vouchers, which would allow qualifying parents to use part of the school taxes they pay to help offset the cost for private education.
Sen. Larry Taylor, a Houston area Republican and Huberty’s counterpart in the upper chamber, said the state cannot afford the House plan’s price tag.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer, agreed. “Simply adding more funding without a focus on teachers and educational outcomes, as is being proposed, accomplishes very little,” Patrick said in a statement.
Once the Senate plan is adopted, the two chambers will have until the special session ends to reconcile their differences and find a compromise that each can embrace,
Huberty called the amount offered in the Senate plan woefully inadequate.
“It’s one-sixth of our plan,” he said. “That won’t do anything.”
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