House Swings and Misses on School Finance
Earlier this week the House Committee on Public Education heard HB 1759, a proposal by Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock that would make sweeping changes to the school finance system. This bill was introduced as an effort to increase equity in the public school system and to address the concerns raised in the pending school finance lawsuit. Let’s explore the details.
CPPP applauds Chairman Aycock for making a serious effort to address school finance this session, but we testified against HB 1759 because, among other concerns, it increases inequity among the highest and lowest wealth districts. Nor does it address funding for economically disadvantaged and English Language Learner (ELL) students—the primary concern in the District Court ruling. Our written testimony, which outlines all our concerns and recommendations for improvement, can be found here.
A CPPP analysis of the data provided by the Legislative Budget Board shows that the funding gap between the top and bottom 20 percent of school districts by wealth will actually increase under the proposal.
This is important because the court defines “equity” as districts having similar levels of revenue for similar levels of taxation. Property poor districts tend to have higher tax rates than property wealthy districts and are still at a funding disadvantage. This proposal clearly increases the inequity between property poor and property wealthy districts.
One of the primary concerns of the District Court is that the arbitrary design and insufficient adjustments for economically disadvantaged and ELL students make it hard for districts to provide an adequate education for these populations.
Currently, 60 percent of Texas school children are economically disadvantaged. In the past ten years the number of economically disadvantaged students has grown at twice the rate of overall student growth. The number of students with limited English proficiency is also growing—currently at 17 percent, the number of ELL students has grown by 37 percent over the last ten years.
Texas cannot ignore the fact that the student population is changing and becoming increasingly more expensive to educate. To improve the school finance system it is vital that the Legislature address funding for economically disadvantaged and ELL students.
Passing and enacting HB 1759 completely depends on the adoption of the House’s budget plan for public education. HB 1759 repeals several funding streams within the school finance funding formulas with the assumption that those funds will be used to increase the basic allotment (the foundation of the school finance formulas) in the final budget. If HB 1759 passes, but the funding is not secured within the budget, the impact on school districts would be (in the words of Chairman Aycock) “catastrophic.”
The Senate version of the budget, which passed this week, does not include the funding needed to make HB 1759 work. Now members from both chambers will come together to reconcile differences between the two budget proposals.
And for those of you not afraid to get into the weeds of school finance, we’ve developed a flow chart that walks you through the mechanics of the Foundation School Program formulas and our recommendation for improving adequacy and equity in the system.