State leadership, joined by key lawmakers, announced Thursday they had come to a deal on top priorities laid out in January: lowering property taxes and reforming public school finance. "I said 'We will do what no one thought possible. We will finally fix school finance in Texas'," said Governor Greg Abbott. "I'm proud to tell you, today, we are announcing that we've done exactly that". Lt. Governor Dan Patrick told reporters that this is among the most impressive accomplishments reached by Texas lawmakers. "We said we were on the five yard line about a month ago," he said. "We have a touchdown, and we have had the Super Bowl of legislative sessions in the history of this state, and I think in the history of the country: transformational ideas in education which take us to number one in the country."
The finer details of the deal will come out over the next few days, but the general agreement looks like this. Homeowners can expect to see a total reduction in local school property taxes topping $5 billion, an average reduction of 13 cents per $100 valuation by 2021. Abbott added that it will also provide 2.5 percent in tax compression that year. "What that means is that it will provide additional tax relief in years going forward," he said. It also reduces recapture, the distribution of funds from property-rich to property-poor districts, by $3.6 billion - nearly half of what was projected for the next biennium. In all, it increases the state share of education funding by seven percent, up to a total of 45 percent. "This bill resolves equity," said House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. "It ensures that all students, whether they're in a wealthy district or a poor district or a rural district or an urban district, they will know that Texas leaders care about the quality and the funding of their education." Patrick added that the bill will implement new rollback rate reductions, down to 2.5 percent for school districts and 3.5 percent for cities and counties.
For education, the deal will put about $4.5 billion more into classroom programs, most of it focused on economically-disadvantaged students. The plan will provide free full-day pre-kindergarten classes for economically disadvantaged students as well as more resources to improve reading outcomes among these students by the end of 3rd grade. It would also add an optional month of classes in July for low-income students who wish to participate. All schools will see more money per student through an increase in the principal variable in the school finance formula system, the basic allotment.
According to Patrick, the average teacher in Texas will see an increase in compensation of about $4,000, with more possible through merit pay and other incentives, like participation in the July term or mentoring other teachers. School librarians, nurses and counselors will also see a pay raise. Retired teachers will also get a big boost; in addition to making the teacher retirement fund fiscally sound for the foreseeable future, Patrick said they can expect to see a bonus check next year of, on average, $2,000.
These are the broad strokes of a deal that Patrick said negotiators reached late on Wednesday night. After both chambers approve the agreement on a simple majority vote, it'll head to Abbott's desk. Once signed, Abbott believes it will benefit Texans for years to come. "Future generations of children in Texas will be better off because of the education reforms passed this session," he said. "The tax burden on Texas property owners will be less because of what we accomplished this session."
The 86th Legislative session ends next Monday, May 27th. Should the chambers ratify the agreements reached this week, leadership's key goals for the session will have been achieved. With no other major issues outstanding, it seems unlikely that Abbott would need to call lawmakers back to Austin this summer for a special session.