Texas House Will Tackle School Finance This Session

With a plan that would add $3 billion to the state's public education budget, the Texas House has decided to take on school finance reform this legislative session.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, in Austin on Jan. 22, 2015.

*Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.

With a plan that would add $3 billion to the state's public education budget, the Texas House has decided to take on school finance reform this legislative session.

As he announced a deal Wednesday that would put $800 million on top of the $2.2 billion the chamber had already allocated to public schools, Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, called the decision a "significant change in direction."  

The topic of school finance was largely expected to go unaddressed this legislative session while a massive lawsuit involving more than two-thirds of the state's school districts awaits a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court.

After months of private discussions and meetings, Aycock said House leaders no longer wanted to wait for a long-needed overhaul of the system. The proposal will be filed as House Bill 1759. 

"We had to ask the fundamental question: Do we want to do what's right for the state of Texas and the children of Texas, or do we want to sit around and try to play lawyer and outguess the courts?" Aycock told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

Texas school districts filed litigation challenging the state's school finance system after lawmakers slashed more than $5 billion from the public education budget in 2011.

A Travis County district judge ruled in the districts' favor in August — saying the way the state distributes money to districts is unconstitutional because of both inadequate and unequal funding. The state appealed the lawsuit to the high court, which is expected to hear the case this year.  

Aycock said Wednesday that for lawmakers to look at the overall public education system instead of how individual schools in their districts fare would take “some courage.” 

“We are talking more about children and less about districts this time,” he said, making his comments flanked by key House lawmakers in both parties, including Appropriations Chairman John Otto, R-Dayton. 

Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, voiced his support for the plan in a statement released by his office following the announcement.

"I am very encouraged by the goals articulated today, such as greater equity, a reduction in Robin Hood and additional resources to help educators meet students’ needs," he said. "The Texas House is serious about improving public education and these principles give us plenty to build upon in the weeks ahead.”

It is unclear what reception such efforts will earn in the state Senate, where budget writers have proposed about $1.8 billion less for public education and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has thrown his weight behind a hefty tax cut package.

Referring to the plan as a “House initiative,” Aycock said he had had not yet discussed it with Senate leaders.

But he said he was hopeful that lawmakers in that chamber “will step forward and do what they believe to be right” for Texas schoolchildren.