DALLAS — Texas lawmakers on Tuesday approved the financial bill necessary to balance the state’s two-year, $172.3 billion budget, but not before almost forcing a second special session.
The bill also includes a provision allowing charter schools to participate in the state’s school bond enhancement program.
David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, said the coverage by the Texas Permanent School Fund will significantly improve the schools’ finances.
“It’s huge,” Dunn said. “With the full faith and credit of the state of Texas behind us, the schools should see an improvement in the interest they pay. It could be as much as 200 basis points.”
The House first rejected SB 1, which provided the additional revenue needed to bring the spending plan into balance. The chamber then reversed itself to approve the measure several hours later when more than 20 Republicans changed their votes following an emergency party caucus called by Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.
Republicans hold 101 seats in the 150-member House.
The measure was approved earlier in the day by the GOP-controlled Senate, which adjourned after the vote.
House members were upset at the Senate’s early dismissal, which meant they had to accept the conference committee bill in its entirety without amendments or changes. After several hours of contentious debate, the House approved the bill and sent it to Gov. Rick Perry.
The measure was adopted late Tuesday after the House spent more than nine hours debating an anti-groping bill that would criminalize inappropriate touching by federal officers during airport security searches.
SB 1 allocates $4 billion in cuts to local school districts over the next two years. Most districts will see a 3% reduction in state aid during fiscal 2012 and 6% less in fiscal 2013, although some property-rich districts will have their aid slashed by almost 10%.
The financial bill allows charter schools with an investment-grade credit rating to participate in the debt-enhancement program offered by the Permanent School Fund for the first time. The triple-A enhancement had been provided only for local public school debt.
The measure limits the total amount of charter school debt eligible for the PSF enhancement to 2% of the total $24.4 billion fund, which is equivalent to the number of students in the schools. About 120,000 students attend charter schools in Texas.
Charter schools using the enhancement would have to put into an escrow account 10% of the savings realized through the PSF backing to repay the state if any charter schools default on the debt.
It will take some time to set up the state program, Dunn said, and the charter schools must first obtain a favorable ruling from the Internal Revenue Service on the enhancement program.
“I think we’ll see some bonds with a PSF enhancement being issued by charter schools within six to 12 months,” he said. “Several of the larger operators have found that in the past that leasing was more cost effective than building new facilities, but that will change with a reduction in borrowing costs,” Dunn said.
The charter school debt-enhancement provision was included in a Senate bill that died in the House during the regular 140-day session, but it was amended into the finance bill during the 30-day special session that began June 1.
Dunn said the charter school association worked closely with Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, to develop the legislation she introduced. Shapiro is chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Since its inception in 1983, the PSF enhancement program has guaranteed 4,243 school district issues for a total of $88.9 billion. At the end of fiscal 2010, there were 2,452 debt issues outstanding with a balance of $49.3 billion.