Sweeping school finance bill passes Senate, will head back to House

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Monday, the Senate passed legislation that would make sweeping changes to the education system in Texas.

For most of the day, the state Senate focused on House Bill 3, one of two overarching pieces of legislation to reform Texas education.

“I am looking forward to a thoughtful and important conversation about how we fund Texas public schools, reduce property taxes and invest in our state’s teachers,” Forth Worth Democrat Beverly Powell tweeted Monday morning.

“Started my day praying at church and ending it pouring over 110 amendments to HB 3,” State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, tweeted Sunday night.

The bill, as written, would cost $15.5 billion over the next two years, said Friendswood Republican Larry Taylor, who is spearheading the legislation in the upper chamber. As lawmakers make amendments, Taylor mentioned he hoped to get that number down closer to the $9 billion the House agreed upon.

“We’ve got to move our school finance system into the 21st century,” Taylor said as he laid the bill out on the floor.

“Getting students we have today up to levels they need to be is challenging, but it certainly can be done,” he said, urging lawmakers to put differences aside to help Texas kids.

Taylor’s tone is generally echoed across party lines.

Both Democrats and Republicans have said they want to help Texas students, but on the most controversial amendments, their votes on Monday tended to stay along their party lines.

For example, the body killed amendments that would remove both extra district funding and teacher merit pay based on 3rd grade STAAR test results.

“We’ve seen numerous examples of how the STAAR is flawed,” San Antonio Democrat José Menéndez said, before the Senators voted one of his amendments down.

“People are looking at every different aspect of this bill, especially the school finance mechanisms that are embedded within it, and how that applies to each of their individual school districts,” Association of Texas Professional Educators lobbyist Mark Wiggins said Monday.

The process has proven more intense than some expected.

“This has been a grueling process, but it’s worth it,” Taylor said at an education committee meeting last week, holding back tears. Taylor chairs the Senate education committee.

“I know the gun we’re under,” State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said at that same meeting. “I think it’s gonna be important that on the floor, we have the opportunity to really talk through some of these things, otherwise I worry the process becomes so rapid that people don’t understand the bill.”

The leader of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has publicly shared his urgency to get the education legislation debated. Patrick tweeted about his desire to get both the property tax and education bills moved through the legislative process “ASAP.”

“We can no longer allow excuses or lower expectations to prevail,” Taylor said Monday on the Senate floor.

The bill will head back to the House with Senate amendments and then will likely go to a House and Senate Conference Committee made up of representatives and senators. 

The last day of session is May 27.

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