School Finance Reform Has Something for Everyone

Dallas could win new state money and reduce local property taxes

The latest school finance reform plan has Dallas Independent School officials very pleased. It could increase state school funding and allow Dallas ISD to reduce local school property taxes, too.

"I am happy. I am very happy, if it stays in its current form," said Dallas ISD Trustee Lew Blackburn. "But I know how politics can work and I know how between now and the end of the session at the end of May, things might change."

The bill offered Tuesday by Republican House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty of Kingwood could allow Dallas ISD property taxes to be reduced to $1.09 per $100 value from the current $1.17.

Dallas is now a property rich district that sent $188 million back to the State of Texas in the current “Robin Hood” school funding formula that helps fund poorer districts. The Dallas ISD recapture payment could decline to just $15 million.

The bill could increase annual state school money to Dallas by $96 million or $695 per pupil.

The House plan includes full funding for Pre-K, which Dallas ISD has been half funding with its own money. The changes could allow Dallas ISD to do other things it could not afford before.

"We have other places we could spend money. Right now we're trying to focus on the most important which is in the classroom," Blackburn said.

Teachers would get raises in both the new House bill and an earlier proposal from the Texas Senate.

"It's the right thing to do. We need to pay our teachers fair wages in order to keep teachers in the profession. The state is really taking a different direction this time and we're all happy about it," said Alliance AFT Dallas leader George Rangel.

The Senate plan includes $5,000 across the board raises for all teachers. The House would give districts the money for raises, but let them decide how to divide it among teachers.

If lawmakers use the state's 'rainy day' fund to boost schools, teachers union leader Rangel said there should be a method to be sure that those funds would also be available in the future.

"Are compensations going to be in place long term or is it just a one shot deal? We want to make sure we don't put the Districts in a bind," Rangel said.

Differences between the House and Senate proposals must be reconciled but both are offered by Republican lawmakers and Republican Governor Greg Abbott made school finance reform a top priority for this legislative session.

"A lot of the legislators ran on this platform and we certainly hope that they keep their word," Rangel said.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was in Austin Wednesday talking with lawmakers and learning more about the plans.

Other North Texas Districts were still assessing the new Texas House proposal Wednesday.

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