The 79th Legislature began a new 140-day regular session Tuesday, January 11, 2005. With the customary celebration and fanfare of the first day of the session, legislators played host greeting constituents and other guests at their offices. Some had little time and attention to talk about issues, but they and their staff welcomed any information that would help them during the school finance debates.
In a news conference following the swearing-in of members, the Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, outlined his legislative priorities, which included school finance. The Speaker admitted that the state leadership has not arrived at a consensus on a plan for funding Texas schools.
Governor Designates School Finance as Emergency Legislation
Earlier in the week Governor Rick Perry designated school finance legislation as an emergency item for the 79th Legislature, along with the reforming of the Adult Protective Services (APS) and Child Protective Services (CPS). This means that the legislature will accelerate its process for selecting committees and begin holding public hearings on the issues earlier in the 79th Legislative Session.
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst applauded the governor for making those issues top priority and in a press release added that, I have been working with senators daily on a school finance reform plan that will improve the quality of education in our schools, provide our good teachers with better pay, and lower property taxes for hardworking Texans.
Speaker of the House, Tom Craddick, similarly praised the governor for the items he outlined.
Features of Governors School Finance Plan
In the same news release, the governor announced that his plan for funding schools includes:
a significant cut to property taxes,
a new business tax,
salary incentives for the best teachers,
incentives for student achievement on the TAKS exam, and
penalties for schools that are failing.
Read the news release, Gov. Perry Declares APS, CPS Reform and Education Emergency Legislation online at
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst Announces Support for His School Finance Plan
Dewhurst announced that all 31 members of the Texas Senate have signed on to the provisions of his public education bill that provides for sweeping changes in the states public education system and the way the system is funded. Dewhurst stressed that the plan announced Wednesday is only a starting point.
Features of the plan include:
reduced local property taxes by creation of a statewide $1 property tax and other tax revenue,
some localized enrichment, phased in over time,
increased funding for special populations, specifically English language learners,
strengthened accountability for charter schools,
increased teacher salaries, including performance incentives, and
increased facilities funding, particularly in high-growth areas.
Read the outline of the plan (in PDF format) http://www.senate.state.tx.us/75r/ltgov/assets/pdf/TexasChildrenFirst.pdf
Budget Surplus Announced
Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn announced a budget surplus of $400 million, but suggested that the state cannot continue under-funding education and expect stellar results.
I say no matter how strong our economy is, fixing our broken school finance system cannot be done within our existing revenue estimate, she said. The governor needs to show the people of Texas a real school finance reform plan that will cut skyrocketing local property taxes, have the state pick up more of the tab, and have equityWe must drive more of every education dollar directly into the classroom with the teachers and the students where it belongs, Strayhorn said. And we need to say out loud: We need more money for education.
Read the news release, Strayhorn Estimates Budget $400 Million in the Black Says The Shortfall Is in Governors Leadership at http://www.window.state.tx.us/news/50110bre.html