School Bill Logjam Eases, Though Extra Money for Schools, Retirees Still Uncertain

AUSTIN -- The Legislature partially eased a logjam on education bills Monday, as the House tentatively approved a study of school finance sought by the Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott.Late Monday, the Senate was expected to bless a slimmed-down proposal to immediately increase state funding of public schools for the next two years - a pet cause of the House GOP leadership.The moves would set up appointment of House-Senate conference committees on the three measures expected to advance Monday.Negotiators from each chamber would try to hash out differences. Those negotiations also implicate a fourth bill, affecting retired teachers and the looming hits their wallets face from higher premiums and cost sharing in their health insurance plans managed by a state pension fund.A separate but unresolved issue - property taxes - also could factor into whether lawmakers salvage some headway on education in the special session. It must end by midnight Wednesday.Of the several education items on the agenda of Gov. Greg Abbott's special session, only subsidized private-school tuition for disabled students is for sure dead. Teacher pay raises also will almost surely have to await further consideration in 2019.But tweaks in how the state funds public schools, a study of future funding and a softening of financial blows to retired school district employees, scheduled for Jan. 1, on their health insurance plan known as "TRS-Care" still may squeak to passage.There are no sure bets, though.A Senate committee has stripped $1.5 billion from the temporary relief Speaker Joe Straus and the House have voted to provide school districts in the two-year budget cycle that begins Sept. 1.Late Monday, the full Senate was waiting to debate and vote on a $311 million package.It would provide $150 million in hardship grants to some of the districts such as Prosper in Collin County that otherwise would lose Additional State for Tax Reduction. In 2006, they received the money as a guarantee they wouldn't lose money from property-tax rate cuts passed by lawmakers.The Senate's version also would give charters $60 million, add $60 million of construction financing for low-wealth districts and apply $41 million to start eliminating a penalty in funding formulas for small districts - those under 300 square miles and with fewer than 1,600 students.House hopes for moreThe funding bill is expected to swell in size to a half-billion or more, if the bill advances to a House-Senate conference committee.House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, a Kingwood Republican, gave a flavor of what the agreed-upon compromise might look like as he discussed the study commission bill of Weatherford GOP Rep. Phil King."Today's goal is to continue the discussions so that we can finish on Wednesday, [so] that there is a school finance bill that has things like ASATR in it, weights for English language learners, dyslexia weight, small school adjustment," Huberty said.King replied, "I see this as a package. House Bill 21 [the temporary funding bill] gets us through, minimally, the next two years and [the study commission] is a forum for a long-term planning session to come up with recommendations for the Legislature next time."King's bill would create a 15-member commission, including six lawmakers, five superintendents or school board members, two current or retired teachers and representatives from business and civic life.House members added nearly 20 changes, though they may be removed in conference committee, if the bill advances that far.  Continue reading...

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