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Texas House Republicans Go On Defensive on HB 2

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX –

Supporters of HB 2, the public education reform bill, went on the defensive today.

Bill author Rep. Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington) tried to diffuse recent allegations, particularly from House Democrats, that the $3 billion in "new money" provided to public schools in the legislation isn't just smoke and mirrors and that the legislation will create a more equitable school finance system in the state.

Grusendorf reiterated at a press conference today that new money that would be infused into the state's ailing, and unconstitutional, school finance system is only one tool to help the state achieve a successful school finance plan that will pass court muster.

"This is $3 billion in new funds for education," he said. "If we don't pass HB 2 it will not be available for school districts this coming year." Thus, said the Public Education Committee chair, passage of HB 2 is "critical" to that need.

Grusendorf said there has never been an inflation adjuster in a school finance plan in Texas, adding that his legislation "promotes $3 billion in new money" for public education in Texas, over and above funding for enrollment growth and it brings 600,000 Texas schoolchildren into a "fully equalized system." That, he said, is "more equity than we've ever seriously considered in the last decade and a half." He said passage of HB 2 will ensure that 96 percent of the schoolchildren in Texas will be in a "fully equalized system."

Adding support for Grusendorf's bill was Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands), who noted that, "You can't spend enough to satisfy everyone." Saying the additional $3 billion in funding is "a lot of money," it probably will not satisfy the wants of special interest groups. However, he said, "The only special interest group we are interested in appeasing is 'we the people.'"

HB 2 will move the state's public school system from the current 81 percent of students in an equalized system to 96 percent, said Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van). He said there are some who would seek to redefine the court's definition of equity, but that would not serve the children of the state. He said HB 2 will provide a system that is "more equitable than Robin Hood," the state's current recapture system. Additionally, he said, the bill ensures equity within individual districts. "More money, more equity. That's what this bill is all about."

The public education reform bill is "first and foremost about reform and reform on an unprecedented level," said Rep. Bill Keffer (R-Dallas). He described what goes "up" and what goes "down" in the bill, noting the state's share of total funding goes up and local costs go down; overall funding is up and the number of children left out of an equalized system goes down; bilingual and technical funding goes up; funding for teacher health insurance goes up; and funding for attracting the "best and brightest" teachers goes up. "What goes down is the status quo," he said. "This is about making significant changes."

"How much we spend is important, but what we spend the money on is much more important." He said Texas is interested not in just spending money, but spending money where results can be seen. "When money follows results we will get more results from our money."

Rep. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) said 3.3 million children are currently in an equalized public education system in Texas, but if HB passes, 3.9 million children will benefit, an increase of 15 percent. He described HB 2 as providing an "unprecedented commitment to equity" that will allow children from all walks of life to "participate in the opportunities of the future." He said the bill continues new funding at a rate of $700 per child over the biennium.

"How much is enough?" he asked. Analysis shows increases of billions of dollars have been put into the public school system in recent years and "we're proposing to spend billions more." However, he said it is "not more money poured into the same old system yielding the same results."