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Texas House Democrats Unveil New School Finance Plan

Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives unveiled what they called a “transformative school finance plan,” but the possibility of passing some of the priorities within it are slim given Republican control of state government.

Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, laid out House Bill 177 during a news conference with her fellow Democrats Thursday morning at the Texas Capitol. She dubbed the legislation the Fully Fund Our Future Act. This rollout came during the third special legislative session focused primarily on Gov. Greg Abbott’s call to create an education savings account system in the state, which would allow families to use public dollars to pay for private schools.

Hinojosa said her bill would give Texas teachers a $15,000 pay raise as well as a $5,500 bonus to support staff members. Additionally, the legislation would raise the basic allotment, which is per-student funding in the state, by $2,787. She explained why that number is so specific.

“It’s a wonk-ish, inelegant number,” Hinojosa noted, “but it’s what we need to get us to the national average or the national norm when it comes to funding our schools.”

The legislation would also increase funding for special education programs in Texas to $2.3 billion as well as add $3 billion for school security efforts. The proposal would change the formula for education funding to be based on enrollment rather than attendance, Hinojosa explained.

“We have a school funding emergency in this state, and it is the fault of our state government,” Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, said, “so instead of passing a private school voucher scam that will siphon off billions of dollars from our already underfunded public schools, why don’t we fully fund our neighborhood schools?”

The Democrats who spoke Thursday morning reiterated their opposition to any legislation that would potentially tie an increase for public school funding to the creation of education savings accounts. Several rural Republican lawmakers in the House have also said they’re against letting Texas parents use public funds to pay for private schools.

However, during the current special session, the Texas Senate already passed Senate Bill 1, which would allocate $500 million toward the creation of an education savings account program. The funding comes from the state’s general revenue and would be available for eligible pre-K through 12 school-aged children. Families of eligible students would receive $8,000 for each year they are enrolled in the program. In order to qualify, they must have attended public school within the last year or are about to enter pre-K or kindergarten for the first time.

The House has yet to take up similar legislation. Abbott recently stated he “will not stop until we get ESAs passed in the state of Texas.”

Democrats remain in the minority in Texas government, so it’s not likely they’ll be able to get much momentum to pass the proposal they announced Thursday.

Source : Kxan