The Texas Legislature approved two of the biggest bills — revamping public school financing and cutting property taxes — before the session ended last week.
House Bill 3, which revamped school finance laws, was approved by both houses after being led through the process by State Sen. Larry Taylor, who represents Alvin, Manvel and Santa Fe.
Taylor said the legislation was groundbreaking as it is the first time in decades the Legislature changed public school finance laws without a court order.
"What we are doing here today … will move us towards continued prosperity for this state," he said.
State Rep. Ed Thompson, who also represents Alvin and Manvel, helped write and lead HB 3 through the process.
In all, the bill would put $4.5 billion more into the classroom. This money would flow through adjusted funding formulas and would direct more to students with economic disadvantages, those still learning English and those with dyslexia.
It would create an optional July term for eligible students and full-day, quality Pre-K programs for students from low-income backgrounds. The only outcomes-based funding in the final version would reward schools for every student they graduate ready for college, the workforce or the military.
Teachers would see a salary increase, but it wouldn't be the even, across-the-board $5,000 originally included in the Senate version. Instead, it would create a mechanism by which teacher pay would increase whenever the legislature ups the basic allotment, the fundamental variable in school formula funding.
HB 3 would raise that more than $1,000, to $6,160, of which nearly a third must go toward salaries for non-administrative public school employees. Districts would also have the option of developing a system to identify their best teachers and pay them more, but that system couldn't factor in results from state accountability tests. There are also incentives for teachers who are willing to teach at high-need or rural campuses.
Administrators will have flexibility in how these funds get distributed, so the actual amount of increased pay will vary district to district. In all, the bill puts about $2 billion toward teacher and other public school salary increases.
The bill would also reduce local school property tax rates by an estimated 13 cents per $100 valuation by 2021, providing more than $5 billion in property tax relief within two years.
It also seeks to rein in the rate of growth by requiring districts to seek voter approval if they wish to exceed a 2.5 percent rate increase in any year.
Senate Bill 2, by Houston Sen. Paul Bettencourt, would create a similar limit for most municipal tax rates, at 3.5 percent. That bill also includes a number of transparency and taxpayer education provisions.
If voters approve no rate increases above these new statuatory limits, it would save an estimated $980 million in property taxes statewide by 2024.
Gov. Greg Abbott applauded the House and Senate and said Texas is better because of the legislation.
"In my inaugural address I said that this will be the session we enact historical school finance reform by putting more money into the classroom, paying our teachers more reducing recapture and cutting property taxes," Abbott said in a press release. "Tonight, without a court order, the legislature did just that by passing one of the most transformative educational bills in recent Texas history."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also applauded the Legislature after the work was finished.
"This is truly an historic evening," Patrick said. "It's going to save taxpayers a lot of money, give teachers more money and change the way we educate students and finance and make us number one in the country to lead on education reform."