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Time Dwindling, Another Lost Chance at School Finance

The death of a key education fiscal matters bill on the House floor tonight ensures that any changes to school finance formulas will happen in a conference committee — and adds fuel to speculation of a special session this summer.

Sen. Florence Shapiro (l), R-Plano, discusses a matter with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on May 5, 2011 one day after the Senat...

The death of a key education fiscal matters bill on the House floor tonight ensures that any changes to school finance formulas will happen in a conference committee — and adds fuel to speculation of a special session this summer.

SB 1581 was the latest hope for a school finance debate on the House floor. Fresh back from the Senate with Sen. Florence Shapiro's newly resurrected proposal attached, it was also the prospective home of plans from Reps. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, and Scott Hochberg, D-Houston.

When it finally came up after 10 p.m. on Monday night, however, its sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, appeared prepared for defeat as he acknowledged Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, standing ready at the back microphone with a point of order.

"I think we will park school finance where it is for a couple of years and come back," Aycock said. "I hope that most of you will pledge to study up some about school finance between now and when we come back."

Earlier in the day, his colleagues expressed concern with rewriting funding formulas with so little time left in the session — and said that they hadn't had enough time to consider the plans currently on the table. 

If lawmakers do avoid changing existing funding formulas, the $4 billion in reductions to public schools will be distributed under current law — meaning they would likely be fully funded for the first year of the biennium by borrowing from the second, then make up dwindling state funds locally through a process called "proration" — with the guarantee that the Legislature would pay them back next session.

When she received word that SB 1581 had died on a point of order across the dome, a clearly frustrated Shapiro said the House was "not ready to deal with nor talk about school finance."

"They seem to be dragging their feet on just about everything that has anything to do with school finance," she said. "I'm extremely concerned." 

But don't discount a school finance plan from the 82nd Legislature yet. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Eissler both said lawmakers could reach a deal in conference committee on another fiscal matters bill, SB 1811, which passed the House early Saturday morning. (And there's the increasing possibility of a special session to hammer out the details, which neither lawmaker would address directly.)

SB 1581 was also a prospective life raft for a number of other thorny education measures — like Eissler's proposal to lift the class size limit and Rep. Sid Miller's school voucher program. Eissler said he was investigating the possibility of attaching HB 400, his mandate relief package, to a bill — possibly SB 1811 — in conference committee. 

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