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HB 1 Passes Senate But Not Without Pointed Questions Regarding Funding

By J. Lyn Carl, GalleryWatch.com

Austin, TX –

Discussion of state appropriations relative to education funding returned to the same old issues on the Senate floor Tuesday - tuition revenue bonds, facilities funding and student textbooks.

As Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) brought HB 1 to the Senate floor, he explained that the bill is similar to SB 6 that was passed previously by the Senate. He said the bill reinstates the Texas Education Agency appropriation exactly as it was in SB 1 from the 79th Regular Session. Those funds were victim of a line-item veto by Gov. Rick Perry as a means of holding legislators' feet to the fire to pass public school reform and property tax relief legislation during the current 79th First Called Session. Ogden admitted, however, that there are some differences in the House's HB 1 and the Senate version, SB 6.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) questioned Ogden as to whether the tuition revenue bond (TRB) legislation would be brought up between now and the end of the First Called Session, which comes to a halt no later than midnight Wednesday.

"If there is white smoke on HB 3 and if we're able to pass HB 2 and 3 on floor, it is my understanding I might be recognized to bring up the TRB bill," said Ogden.

Shapleigh asked specifically regarding funding for the proposed Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy in South Texas and El Paso Medical School and if both were in the proposed TRB legislation.

Neither is likely to be in the floor substitute, responded Ogden, since the appropriations sought for those two projects are to start up the schools, not build buildings as are the other projects in the TRB bill.

Shapleigh asked if the Senate would take up the TRB bill and the Rangel and El Paso school issues after a vote on HB 3.

"It's not my intent to ask to be recognized on the TRB bill until we have resolved and disposed of HB 2 and 3," said Ogden.

Pointing to differences between HB 1 and SB 6, Shapleigh asked what "vehicles" are available for the Rangel and El Paso medical facilities.

"Right now, the only vehicle we have is (SB) 6," said Ogden. He also pointed out that legislators should remember, "We have to pay for that somehow." He said the money in SB 6 for those two projects was to be paid from the budget surplus, but now an appropriation would be contingent on passage of HB 2, and from new money that would be available had HB 5 passed. He reminded that not only does the legislature not have a vehicle for those projects, but also that, "We don't have any money to do it right now either."

Asking if the Rangel and El Paso schools would be germane to the TRB bill if it is brought up, Ogden said that was a matter for the Senate Parliamentarian to decide. Again he reminded of the financial dilemma, saying there is only $180 million left to appropriate to the TRB bill. He said if medical schools were added to that, it would mean reducing the TRB funding "by the same amount."

Another portion of HB 1 that drew comments was the amount for facilities funding for schools. HB 1 amends the instructional facilities allotment (IFA) appropriation to $50 million. That brought Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to her feet.

The Laredo Democrat pointed out that the Senate bill put in $75 million for IFA and asked Ogden why it was reduced. She noted that two sessions ago, the allotment was for $150 million. That was reduced to $20 million during the 78th Legislature when the state faced a $10 billion budget shortfall.

While Ogden pointed out that the $50 million allocation was more than double that of the previous session's $10 million, Zaffirini argued $50 million was significantly less than the $150 million from two sessions ago.

Saying she was "very surprised and very disappointed" that school facilities again are not being funded at a high enough level, Zaffirini said she would vote against the amendment.

Coming to Ogden's defense, Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the legislature needs a study to assess and evaluate facilities across the state. "It's very important that it be a big piece of what we do during the interim," she said, predicting that the legislature could well be "looking at facilities again" when the 80th Session begins in 2007.

Questioning why some schools are using textbooks that are 10 years old while new ones are stored in warehouses, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) asked Shapiro when Texas students could expect to have their new books.

Shapiro said HB 2 includes a change in the way the state funds instructional materials allotments for schools, allocating $100 per student in technology and textbook allotments. School districts then determine whether those funds will be used for textbooks or technology (such as laptop computers). She said lawmakers are asking the TEA not to have another Proclamation 2003 or 2004 relating to textbook purchases, but to adhere to HB 2's new way of acquiring instructional materials. She did, however, say that textbooks that are part of Proclamation 2002 should be in the hands of Texas schoolchildren when schools open this summer.

The Committee Substitute for HB 1, with Ogden's amendment, was passed out of the Senate.