The Texas Senate is expected to hear a version of a House school finance bill, as soon as Sunday evening, that would put an extra $530 million into public schools — giving in a little to the House's original proposal of an additional $1.5 billion, according to a memo circulated to Senate staffers on Saturday.
Senate leaders are offering the extra half billion as a tool to get House members to approve a version of House Bill 21 that includes "private school choice," a priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this session. The Senate had previously budgeted for more money to cover enrollment growth in public schools, but not much extra state funding beyond that.
The memo included the newest version of the bill and a summary of changes. It shows the legislation has morphed from a bill intended to simplify the formulas for funding schools into a conglomeration of other House and Senate education bills.
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, re-wrote HB 21 to include education savings accounts, a program that would subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling expenses for kids with disabilities. That's not likely to go over well in the House, where Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, author of the bill, said he would not accept a version with that program.
Public education advocates have been clamoring for more funding for years, but more than 40 groups sent a letter to senators last week asking them to vote no on HB 21, arguing the education savings account program would drain money from public schools.
According to Saturday's memo, Taylor has also added several other bills as provisions in HB 21 for senators to consider, including grants for schools running programs for kids with autism, facilities funding for charter schools, and a 15-member commission to study further changes to the way schools are funded.
Read related Tribune coverage:
- A Senate committee passed the House’s major school finance reform bill, after adding a controversial provision subsidizing private school tuition for special needs students — a move unlikely to go over well in the House.
- The House approved Rep. Dan Huberty's bill to inject $1.6 billion into public schools and simplify complicated funding formulas. Legislators must still take a final vote on the bill.
- The Senate Education Committee discussed a bill that would radically simplify the state's school finance formula, stripping it of some antiquated provisions. Parents and educators who testified wanted a few new provisions added in.
- As lawmakers debate possible reforms to the school finance system this week, they might decide whether to continue offering extra money to districts like Texas City ISD, which last year was forced to annex a struggling district next to it.