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School Finance Returns to Senate; What Next?

School finance likely hits the Senate floor this afternoon. Will anything change?

Former state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, shown in 2011, took the reins as chancellor of the Texas Tech University System in 2014.

The Senate Finance Committee made quick work of the omnibus fiscal matters bill SB 1 on Thursday, kicking it out in the mid-afternoon after several hours of testimony from the usual round of superintendents and school associations.

Embedded in the bill is the school finance plan that sparked the special session, the shotgun compromise brokered by leadership in the House and Senate in an afternoon of talks with Gov. Rick Perry. The full Senate is set to consider the bill known in its previous life as SB 1811 today at 3:30 p.m. 

What's in there is the exact same plan. In the first year of the biennium it follows what became the House approach, enacting a 6 percent cut to all districts; in the second, it follows the Senate's, focusing the reductions on property wealthy districts that have greatly benefited from the target revenue system created in 2006. And it makes a big change in state law: Instead of having an amount guaranteed under statute, schools would be funded through the appropriations process each session depending on the amount of money available.

During the committee hearing Thursday, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, wondered if there was a chance, in the glaring light of the special session, that House members might come around to something closer to the Senate plan.

"Have you seen any change in their thoughts about this?" he asked his colleague Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.

"No, I haven't. I think, fundamentally, we've reached an agreement about what were doing this year," Duncan said. 

When the Senate plan originally passed, Deuell and Duncan both said that while they supported it, they didn't believe it did enough to address the funding inequity the target revenue system perpetuates. But faced with what came out of the lower chamber, they appear to have decided to move forward with the compromise that does even less, in the hope that any adjustments can be made while the House does its own deliberations over the plan. (There, after lengthy testimony yesterday, it's still pending in committee.)

"We'll go with this for now," Deuell said at the hearing, "but we may hear from House members as they look at the numbers in more detail."

So far, the throngs of parents and teachers the Democrats who fought the plan in the first place hoped would storm the Capitol haven't materialized. But a Save Texas Schools rally planned for tomorrow will tell how vocal their numbers — and how quickly they'll be able to mobilize.

And Democrats have lost two crucial weapons they had during the regular session: one, the power of running out the clock, and two, the rule that requires a two-thirds vote to bring an item for consideration.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, expressed his frustration yesterday while arguing with Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, over another education measure. He paused his questions.

"This is an exercise in futility," he said. "You have the votes to do what you want."

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Public education 82nd Legislative Session Griffin Perry Rick Perry School finance