Legislative update April 26

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April 26, 2019
Senate reveals school finance proposal; top ten anti-city bills; college-readiness bills advance
Senate finally reveals state education plan
Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), chair of the Senate Education Committee, filed the upper chamber’s school finance proposal on the filing deadline in March with numerous blank underscores in place of actual dollar amounts. On Thursday, he laid out before the Senate Education Committee  a heavily-revised substitute of House Bill 3. The Senate version would:
  • Increase the student allotment by a lower amount, $740, from $5,150 to $5,880 (instead of $6,030 as in the House’s proposal);
  • Include a $5,000 one-time pay raise for full-time teachers and librarians, as the Senate unanimously approved in Senate Bill 3;
  • Include performance-based funding for school districts tied to reading at grade level by third-graders;
  • Add unpredictability to school budgets by changing current law, which allows school districts to use property tax values from the previous year in funding formulas, to use valuations from the current year;
  • Limit the growth of school districts’ revenue from property taxes starting in 2023; and,
  • Lower school district property taxes by 8 cents in the first year and 15 cents per $100 of assessed value starting the second year, compared to the House’s proposed 4-cent reduction.
Many other allotments that the House had increased would be reduced as well, including funding for the P-TECH grant program. For example, although the Career and Technical Education allotment would be expanded in HB 3 to include eighth graders, this would reduce funding by forcing school districts to fund P-TECH grant programs through their existing CTE funding.
The Senate Education Committee did not bring HB 3 to a vote. Opponents voiced several concerns about the proposal, including the financial burden of sustaining the one-time $5,000 raise and tying school budgets to current-year property values. The proposal also depends on additional funding for schools from other tax sources. Senator Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) proposed a few alternatives to swapping property tax reduction for an increase in the  sales tax, including diverting severance taxes from oil production and collecting online sales tax.
College-readiness bills advance
Lawmakers advanced legislation on other school issues this week, including individual graduation committees, technology skills curricula and performance indicators.
Senate Bill 213 and House Bill 851 would repeal the expiration date for individual graduation committees, which consider high school students who failed one or two end-of-course (EOC) exams for graduation. The committee includes the principal, teachers of the failed courses, and a parent, designated advocate or even the student if the student is older than 18. Texas has seen a reduction in the college readiness of high school graduates. These committees award high school diplomas to students who may not be ready for college or the workforce. Allowing students who have not passed their EOC’s to graduate also devalues the diplomas of students who studied hard and passed their exams. The program is currently set to expire this September. House members passed the Senate companion to HB 851, SB 213, on Thursday.
House Bill 2984 would add computer programming, coding, computational thinking and cybersecurity to the essential knowledge and skills of the technology curriculum for students in grades K-8. The State Board of Education would revise the curriculum every five years to align with current or emerging professions. HB 2984 was passed by the full House and sent to the Senate this week.
House Bill 843 would add satisfactory performance on Algebra II and English III assessments to public school performance indicators. Success in these courses has proven to be a reliable predictor of college success. Passing Algebra II alone doubles the odds that a student who enters college will complete a bachelor’s degree. HB 843 was passed by the full House and received by the Senate this week.
Texas Municipal League names top ten anti-city bills this session
The Texas Municipal League (TML) identified its top ten bills that threaten the autonomy or funding of local governments in Texas. House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2, revenue-capping rollback tax bills, topped the list, which spanned from local tree regulations to telecom provider fees. A few of the bills are included below. See the full list at Community Impact.
Senate Bill 29 and House Bill 281, also known as the “silencing cities” bills, would prohibit counties, cities and transit authorities from spending public money for lobbying activities. Like private entities, current law allows cities to hire lobbyists to support or oppose legislation that impacts their communities. TML argued these bills could be a violation of free speech for cities by restricting their ability to speak out on legislation. SB 29 was passed by the full Senate and sent to the House last week. HB 281 was passed by the House State Affairs Committee early this month and has stalled in the Calendars Committee.
Senate Bill 1152 and House Bill 3535 would lower municipal right-of-way fees for telecommunications providers to run cables over an existing line. Telecom providers argue they should not have to pay twice to run telephone calls, cable television or video signal over the same line. Cities have become sensitive to any reduction in their budget with severe property tax rollbacks in the spotlight. Both bills were passed by the House State Affairs Committee last week and sent to Calendars.
Richardson City elections
Early voting has begun for the City of Richardson, and will continue until Tuesday, April 30. Election Day will be Saturday, May 4. For more information, check out our voting resources.
Other updates
The House Ways & Means Committee members adopted a substantially revised substitute of Senate Bill 2 by an 8-3 vote on Thursday. The substitute now closely resembles the lower chamber’s proposal, House Bill 2, including provisions that would:
  • Trigger automatic tax elections for hospital districts and community colleges at 8 percent;
  • Trigger elections if revenue for cities, counties and emergency service districts increases by more than 3.5 percent, and allow property tax levies to increase by $500,000 per year without triggering an election; and,
  • Allow local municipalities to factor homestead exemptions into their revenue growth calculation to avoid penalizing cities for offering tax cuts to residents.
The House committee also made passage of SB 2 contingent or dependent on the approval of HB 3, the lower chamber’s major school finance reform bill. House members also cut certain provisions that required the participation of taxing units with less than $15 million in combined sales and tax revenue and allowed cities to factor indigent defense costs into their revenue calculations. The House is set to debate the revised SB 2 next week, and it will certainly attract a lot of amendments.  Any changes will likely be rejected by the Senate, and a conference committee will be created to negotiate a revised bill.
The House & Senate conferees on HB 1, the next biennial budget, formally met on Monday, and heard a presentation from the Legislative Budget Board on the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.  The conference committee on the supplemental funding bill for the current fiscal period, SB 500, has yet to meet.  SB 500 includes some very important budget additions to address shortfalls in state Medicaid funding, the backlog in the Texas Research Incentive Program, etc.  Many observers believe that the budget conferees will wait on some resolution on school funding and property tax relief before finalizing an agreement on the supplemental FY 18-19 budget and the upcoming FY 20-21 budget.