Friday, February 25, 2005

Governor Unfolds Education 'Roadmap'

Governor Unfolds Education 'Roadmap'

Jenny La-Coste Caputo
Express-News Staff Writer

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry joined House Republicans on Thursday to tout "Roadmap to Results."

That's the nickname for the bill aimed at overhauling the state's education finance system, getting tough on low-performing schools and providing property tax relief.

Perry and House Education Committee Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, headlined the third of four news conferences held this week to promote the bill.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, House members discussed the fact that the bill would provide $3 billion in new funding over the next two years and provide protection for taxpayers from skyrocketing property tax rates.

The focus Thursday: Financial and academic accountability for school districts.

"We must have more efficiency in our schools," Perry said. "If public money is used to lobby or litigate, taxpayers ought to know."

Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Cyprus, said House Bill 2 would strengthen sanctions for schools where students consistently perform poorly on state standardized tests. He said if the state is going to pump more money into public education, education has to perform.

"It's a huge investment in our children," Van Arsdale said. "But if we have a chronically failing school, that is a block to the investment. ... We will move in swiftly and close those schools down and reopen them with new leadership."

The bill calls for reducing property taxes by one third while increasing education funding. It doesn't address the source of the money.

Critics of the bill say it increases the spending gap between the state's richest and poorest students because it calls for severely limiting the current system that requires property-rich districts to turn over some of their property-tax revenue to the state to help poor districts.

If the bill becomes law, no more than 35 percent of property-tax districts' property tax revenue would be turned over. That provision means a handful of districts will receive a huge increase in funding.
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