New finance commission to recommend revisions for Texas schools’ finance

FILE - Students in a classroom. (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Students in a classroom. (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) –- A newly-appointed finance commission is trying to ease the burden on homeowners and students by changing the way Texas pays for public schools— and they are starting with the amount of money they have to pay back to the state.

Austin is the largest payer of recapture, according to Nicole Conley Johnson, Austin Independent School District’s Chief Financial Officer.

“We owe more in our recapture liability than we take in in revenue, mainly because we are losing families and losing students,” Johnson said.

The reason they are losing so many is because families cannot afford to live in the Austin city core.

“We know that the demographics of the students and the families that we serve really don’t meet the definition of being wealthy,” Johnson said. “So, we’re sending so much in local resources to the state to attend to needs across the state.”

The Commission on Public School Finance started with the end goal of coming up with recommendations for lawmakers on how to budget for teaching 5.3 million students across Texas. The hope is that lawmakers will use the feedback to create legislation in 2019 that sets the state on a successful long-term plan. The panel is made up of 13 educators and current and former lawmakers — including two educators from Central Texas.

Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Doug Killian, who was appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, is also among those appointed to work with Johnson. Because they are operating in a deficit, Johnson said it’s taking away from the funding they have for programs like full day Pre-K. The lack of money has also resulted in them considering closing schools.

“Students are expected to do more … and they’re demanding more services as a result,” Johnson said. “We don’t have sufficient dollars and resources to appropriate those services.”

Another huge problem the state is facing — the CEI Index is outdated. The index is supposed to account for regional affordability, but it hasn’t been updated in 30 years.

Finding a solution for how to balance serving smaller districts with less money and fewer students while also accommodating larger districts with more money and more students won’t be easy. It’s a problem that has plagued the Texas school system for a long time.

“Previous attempts obviously were sort of mired in simply lack of political will to make some of the hard decisions to really truly make significant change in the system,” Johnson said.

The commission plans to spend the first half of this year meeting and hearing testimony from educators statewide. They’ll spend the rest of the year coming up with recommendations for lawmakers.

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