Schools will close if reforms don’t pass, says House Education Chairman

Chairman of the House Public Education Committee, Rep. Dan Huberty, R - Houston, talks to KXAN's Phil Prazan.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – On Sept. 1, Blanco Independent School District officials say they will cut staff. Overnight, they’ll lose seven percent of their total funding through a program that is phasing out. Chairman of the Texas House Public Education Committee, Dan Huberty, R-Houston, says it’s only the beginning and schools will close if nothing is done.

His plan, HB 21, has passed a panel of House members and is expected to come up for a vote in the Texas House in the following days. It calls for increasing the amount of money per student, known as the “basic allotment, meaning districts like Austin keep more of their taxes in their district.

But the state will have to spend $1.6 billion dollars more to help pay for property poor districts, in part replacing money that would go to them from property rich districts through our “Robin Hood” program.

“If we don’t do this. Local taxpayers will be forced to bare the burden of the reductions and, or, [school districts] will have to go to their voters to increase taxes,” Chairman Huberty told KXAN in an interview, “I don’t think its fare for us to sit here and say, good for us, we’re coming up here to doing all these wonderful conservative things and going back home and not delivering on it. I don’t want to go home and say I cut funding to education. I had to do that in 2011. I am not going to do that again.”

More than half of the school districts in the state sued the Texas government in part because they believed drastic cuts made in 2011 were unconstitutional. Last year, the Texas Supreme Court said the state’s school finance system was horrible but legal. The Texas House took the issue up.

Huberty’s HB 21, also implements “hardship grants” to prop up schools that have funding formulas being phased out.

Some districts like Blanco ISD have already lost money from the Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction, or ASATR. Almost every Texas district received money from the program in 2008. A decade later, that number of districts has dropped to less than 20 percent.

ASATR graph (KXAN)
ASATR graph (KXAN)

Only four districts in our area will likely receive money from the program this year. Those include Lago Vista, Lake Travis, Manor, and Rockdale.

“There is no other plan that what we put together. There will be school districts that will close if this school finance plan does not pass. That’s a fact,” said Huberty.

Just last week, the House forbid public tax dollars to be used for private or home schools. That goes against the Senate leader, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He, with senators, just passed a measure allowing families to use their tax dollars to tailor a specific education for them.  The Senate does not have the 1.6 billion dollars more.

Patrick says there will be no school finance reform without a tax dollar school choice program with it. A debate coming in the weeks ahead.

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