DALLAS — With less than a month before the Texas legislative session ends, some school officials hope to receive increased taxing flexibility in two bills that may be voted on soon.
SB 2392, written by education committee chairwoman Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, is still in committee, while the House committee on public education voted on Friday to put HB 3646, spearheaded by Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, before the entire House.
“It looks like we’re going to be very fortunate this year and get a little bit of help from the Legislature,” Dallas Independent School District superintendent Michael Hinojosa said earlier this week.
“Senator Shapiro’s bill would allow us to add back two pennies more without voter approval and those two pennies would be a significant help, ” Hinojosa said at the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce’s annual education forum.
During a special session of the Legislature in the summer of 2007, Texas lawmakers mandated school districts lower their maintenance and operations property tax rate from a maximum of $1.50 per $100 of assessed value to $1 per $100 over two years. Officials can add back up to four cents to the rate at their discretion and add back as much as another thirteen cents upon voter approval.
Where SB 2392 would allow districts to add back two pennies, HB 3646 “takes a district’s last 6 pennies and makes them golden pennies” meaning those property tax revenues can be used for maintenance and operations, according to Joe Smith a former superintendent and executive director of www.texasisd.com, which provides information about Lone Star state school districts.
The competing bills, which await a final vote, are similar but are not companion bills and are full of other provisions and changes.
Wayne Pierce, executive director of Equity Center, an Austin-based firm advocating for school finance equity, said the school-funding portions of each bill are not the major points of the bills, but provide a good framework for changing the current system. Pierce said he’d like to see a final bill include parts of various bills that he feels would provide the most equity.
Highland Park Independent School District superintendent Dawson Orr called the current rules that froze the state’s per-pupil funding at 2005 levels “a Byzantine system”.
“Given the financial limitations of the state at this time, at least they’re looking at changing the frozen-target-revenue system in place and they’re seeing how inflation affects everyone. The only good thing has been that this has uncovered the enormous discrepancy in how our schools are funded, and it simply doesn’t make sense,” Orr said at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual education forum earlier this week.
Orr also said he believes the Legislature understands the current mechanisms don’t work and need to be changed.
One chief financial officer at a North Texas district said while “it’s good that the legislation appears to be moving forward, the discussion on a new funding formula continues and anything can happen.”