TX Lt. Gov. Dewhurst Announces Senators Backing School Finance Plan
By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com
Austin, TX –
"This Senate is once again united," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst today as he announced that all 31 members of the Texas Senate have signed on to the provisions of SB 2, a public education bill that provides for sweeping changes in the state's public education system and the way the system is funded. (To view an outline for SB 2, "Texas Children First," click here.)
Dewhurst said the draft plan of SB 2 "will change the way we pay for our schools and dramatically improve the quality of education." Co-authored by Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), SB 2 improves the quality of public education, "lightens the load" for local homeowners by reducing local property taxes by one-third and generates additional revenue through a "broad, low rate, fair" tax system, said the lieutenant governor.
Among the components of the financial end of the plan are a proposed $1 statewide property tax (that would have to be approved by a constitutional amendment vote among state voters) and a local school district 15-cent local enrichment rate that would have to be approved by local voters.
The current school maintenance and operations tax (currently capped at $1.50 per $100 valuation) will be replaced by the proposed statewide property tax, resulting in a $5.57 billion reduction in local school property taxes for homeowners and businesses. There would be no future tax increases without a vote of the people.
Additionally, more than $6 billion in "new local capacity" could be provided through the proposed 15-cent local enrichment tax phased in at a rate of five cents per biennium.
The plan also calls for revisions to the state franchise tax that closes current loopholes and reduces the current rate by more than one-half.
The lieutenant governor said the plan also calls for ensuring that teacher salaries in Texas are "at or above the national average."
Shapiro said the plan bases teacher compensation on accountability and performance, campus-based incentive programs, incentives for hard-to-staff campuses and teacher shortage areas, a percentage of local enrichment, reinstating as salary the teacher health insurance "pass through" and by increasing funding for the state mentoring program.
Teachers, said the Education Committee chair, are "the most important and essential element in the classroom."
Shapiro outlined the broad goals of the proposal, including putting equity into the school finance system as the Robin Hood (recapture) method of school finance ends in Texas. She said the proposal also preserves local control and reforms the public education system so that it "reflects the economy of the 21st Century" in Texas.
The Plano Republican said educational success could be achieved through accountability for schools, teachers and students. "We are changing the way we talk about education in Texas today," she said. Shapiro said the state must focus on educating and graduating students so that they are prepared for post-secondary education.
Ogden said the general feeling of the Senate is that it "is better to do something bold than to do nothing" in relation to public education and school finance. If the Senate plan is adopted, he said, it will be "the most equitable school finance plan that has ever been enacted" in the state, and possibly in the nation.
Key to equity throughout the public education system is an "overhaul" of the state's tax system, said Ogden, noting the state's tax system "doesn't match the economy of the 21st Century."
He said the proposal includes a "broad-based business tax" that will be levied on all businesses in Texas except sole proprietorships, and all will "be asked to pay their fair share on behalf of our state and on behalf of our children."
Dewhurst stressed that the plan announced today is only a "starting point."
"Our feet are not in concrete," he said, adding that he stands ready to work with Gov. Rick Perry, House Speaker Tom Craddick and members of the House to pass a strong public education and school finance bill.
"I commend the Senate for the work they have done thus far," said Craddick in a statement following the Senate press conference, "and my fellow members and I look forward to working with them to ensure the youth of this great state receive the education they need to excel and to secure a bright future."
Perry said the plan "marks a good starting point" and shows that legislative leaders are committed to addressing public education and school finance.