School finance reform bill passes House

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With a nearly unanimous vote, House Bill 3 passed in the Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday.

House Bill 3 represents a $9 billion overhaul of the public-school finance system. School finance reform has been a focal point for representatives in the 2019 session.

It has been a complicated and highly debated piece of legislation due to its connection with property tax reform.

The House version would increase districts’ per-student money and pay down local property taxes. The bill devotes $2.7 billion toward property tax reduction, which lowers school district property tax rates by an average of 5.5 percent nationwide.

On Wednesday, State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, added an amendment to the bill related to salary increases for teachers and full-time staff. With Turner’s amendment, any time the basic allotment is increased — whether in HB 3 or in any future legislative session — 25 percent of the increase must be specifically dedicated and set aside for pay raises. His amendment received unanimous bipartisan support and will guarantee $2.4 billion for pay raises for every full-time teacher and full-time support staff member in the state. 

What you may not have heard about, is that HB 3 would include an amendment to address some issues with the Robin Hood plan.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf had an amendment added to the bill, which aimed to provide some relief to districts paying in to Robin Hood.

Landgraf says the amendment would allow districts to hold on to the money they pay into the Robin Hood plan and keep interest on it.

Landgraf credits Andrews ISD Superintendent Dr. Bobby Azam with the plan.

Dr. Azam mentioned some solutions back in January when Landgraf filed a bill that would eliminate Robin Hood.

“If we only had to send half, I don’t know about you but half of $38 million is still pretty good,” Azam said. “There are answers out there.”

Azam said he spoke with Landgraf at a football game about the monthly payments they send to the state for Robin Hood and pitched the idea that later became the amendment.  

“If we could do a lump sum at the end of the year we could at least, if nothing else, put that money in the bank and benefit drawing interest on $38 million,” Azam said back in January. “That’s an option, it benefits us a little bit. We don’t get to keep the money but maybe we could generate some money.”

Although Robin Hood appears to be staying in place for now, some much needed relief is coming to local school districts that are paying into the plan, on top of school finance reform.

“Today’s a great day for Texas children,” House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said. “It’s a great day for their parents. It’s a great day for the teachers who educate them. It’s a great day for everyone in education. It’s a great day for the parents who pay those taxes.”

Here is how local Representatives voted on HB 3:

  • Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa): for
  • Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland): for
  • Rep: Drew Darby (R-San Angelo): for
  • Rep. Poncho Navarez (D-Eagle Pass): for

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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