In a promising sign for cash-strapped Texas schools, the Texas House on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a school finance bill that would increase the amount of state money that schools get per student, start adjusting it for inflation and introduce a major change to how funding is calculated each year.
House Bill 100, authored by Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, would raise the basic allotment, which is the minimum money that schools get per student. That amount is currently $6,160; under King’s bill, it would increase to $6,250 in 2024 and at least $6,300 in 2025, when the state would also consider raising the allotment further to account for inflation.
The bill will be voted on once more before heading to the Senate.
The basic allotment has not changed since 2019, and raising it has been a priority for school officials after the COVID-19 pandemic rattled their finances and inflation diminished the value of the money they get from the state. At the beginning of the legislative session, school districts expressed hopes that lawmakers would direct a portion of the state’s historic $32.7 billion surplus to help them.
But while legislators want to devote an unprecedented amount of funds to schools, most of the allocations discussed so far would have specific uses. The House and the Senate have approved separate proposals that would give school districts billions of dollars so they can lower how much they collect from home- and business-owners in property taxes. The Senate passed a bill that would give teachers one-time bonuses of either $2,000 or $6,000, depending on their school district’s size. The House passed a $1.6 billion school security bill in response to the Uvalde shooting last year and approved half a billion dollars to improve teacher preparation.
By proposing to raise the basic allotment, HB 100 would be the first bill to increase the amount of money districts receive to raise teacher pay and cover the actual costs of educating students.
“House Bill 100 is a historic bill that is infusing an estimated $4.5 billion into public education while making policy shifts that will support critical increases in teacher pay and greater predictability,” King said.
The bill would raise the portion of the state dollars that school districts are required to use to pay for teacher raises from 30% to 50%. The rest can be used for other school expenses, such as maintaining school buildings and buying necessary school supplies.
That change would only afford a modest raise for teachers. The Texas American Federation of Teachers estimated the proposal would at best give teachers an extra $80 per paycheck. The teacher union also calculated that the allotment would have needed to increase to $7,671 per student to account for inflation. An amendment to increase the allotment to $6,500 next year failed.
Doug Killian, superintendent of the Pflugerville Independent School District, said he appreciates the additional funding, but the failure to adjust the basic allotment for inflation will now result in cuts for districts. Most recently, Pflugerville ISD was considering closing schools after the district faced a $12 million budget deficit as a result of a drop in attendance.
“We are still hopeful that additional work by the House and Senate will net out enough additional funding to prevent austerity measures,” he said.
Changes to the funding and teacher pay formulas
One of the most transformative components of the bill is that it would change, in certain cases, the core metric used to estimate how much money the state gives to public schools from average daily attendance to average enrollment. Many school districts, including Pflugerville ISD, have advocated for this change, but they weren’t sure lawmakers would support it.
In Texas, if a student misses school, their district’s attendance average goes down — and so does the amount of money it receives. And in a post-COVID-19 world in which parents are quicker to keep their children home if they’re feeling ill, some districts’ finances have become more volatile than ever.
Under HB 100, most of a school’s funding would still be calculated using average attendance, but the state would swap that metric for enrollment when counting how many children are bilingual, poor or enrolled in special education programs. By using average enrollment, districts would get money based on how many kids they’re expected to educate each year, not how many show up for class.
It’s still unclear how much of a difference this change would make for schools. Much of it depends on how many students each school has under those categories, said Monty Exter, a lobbyist with the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
“There are wins, concerns and opportunities for growth in this bill,” Exter said.
Exter believes this could be a test drive to see if it makes sense for the state to fully transition to an enrollment-based formula.
“If [lawmakers] see that attendance goes down precipitously, perhaps [they’ll] go back the other direction,” he said.
Several school officials across Texas have been calling for the state to base all student funding on enrollment.
Texas has about 5.5 million K-12 students, but only about 92% of them regularly attended classes last school year; schools would’ve received millions in state dollars for the remaining students if funding were based on enrollment.
The bill also updates the base amount of money that teachers should make depending on their experience.
Currently, a teacher with 10 years of experience has to be paid at least $54,540. Under HB 100, that teacher would need to be paid at least $55,000 if they don’t have a teaching certificate and $60,000 if they do.
Exter said while the increases are welcome, he fears teachers may not be required to get a raise after those 10 years.
“[Teachers] have every reason to believe that once they get to year 10, they will never expect a raise ever again,” he said. “And so that’s problematic.”
This article was written by BRIAN LOPEZ of The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This article originally appeared at: https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/26/texas-house-school-finance/