by Dave Moore, Staff Writer
Texas education policy experts expressed cautious optimism about legislation that’s working its way through the Texas Capitol that would represent the first major reform in more than three decades.
The panel, assembled by the Dallas Regional Chamber for its April 5 Education to Employment Outlook event, agreed that while a deal is far from done, things are looking up for funding public education in Texas.
“We haven’t meaningfully updated school finance formulas in over 30 years,” said one of the experts, Austin ISD Chief Business and Operations Officer Nicole Conley Johnson. “While [proposed Texas House Bill 3] doesn’t do everything we want it to, it puts us on the pathway to reform.”
On April 3, the Texas House passed House Bill 3, which will revamp Texas’ school finance system and infuse $6.3 billion in new funding for Texas’ 5.4 million public school students for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. The bill also dedicates $2.7 billion for property tax relief, which would lower all local school district maintenance and operations tax rates by at least 4 cents.
According to data released by the Texas House Public Education committee, school districts in Dallas, Richardson, and Plano – for example – will receive funding bumps of $114 million ($823 per student), $22.5 million ($611 per student), and $32.2 million ($640 per student), respectively. These increases will fund a range of costs, including locally determined staff compensation, and strategic initiatives.
Aside from Johnson, others participating in the panel discussion were Educate Texas/Communities Foundation of Texas Executive Director John Fitzpatrick, Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa, and The Commit Partnership Chairman and CEO Todd Williams.
Hinojosa said HB3 also benefits Dallas because it recognizes its lower-income population. Dallas ISD – the second-largest school district in the state – is comprised of 90 percent economically disadvantaged students; 45 percent of the students are still learning English, he said.
Hinojosa thanked Williams for his role on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, whose recommendations were, in part, incorporated into HB3. Johnson also served on the commission.
“They (members of the commission) were able to look at the data – at such things as using a spectrum of generational poverty – where it is much harder” to educate children, Hinojosa said. “Kids have so many obstacles to overcome… until now. But those things were added into the formulas.”
As a result, public full-day pre-K for 4 year olds would be funded, and Dallas ISD will receive extra funding due its higher-than-average poverty rate.
HB3 also will help Dallas ISD preserve its teacher incentive compensation program, which rewards its highest performing teachers with correspondingly higher pay. Even though Dallas ISD voters approved a tax ratification election last year, the district could only afford to fund that program for a few years, Hinojosa said. If legislation such as HB3 becomes law, it will allow the program to survive for a decade, he said.
Further bolstering Dallas ISD is an amendment to HB3 that will give school districts with P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) an extra $50 per student, for every student enrolled in that program, Hinojosa said. Through Dallas ISD’s P-TECH program, roughly 75 industry partners work with students in providing industry-specific training and mentoring.
“The results (under P-TECH) have been phenomenal,” Hinojosa said. “When we started this journey, only 15 percent of our kids that graduated from Dallas schools had an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree six years after graduating high school. Next year, if results are good, we could have over 20 percent of our kids graduating from high school with an associate’s degree, paired up with Accenture, paired up Telemundo, paired up with Southwest Airlines.”
Panelists agreed that there are still a considerable number of hurdles for HB3 to clear before it becomes a reality. First, a school reform bill must first be passed by the full Senate. There is a separate Texas Senate bill, which would award $5,000-across-the-board annual pay raises for teacher and librarians.
“That takes up about half of the $6 billion available for school finance reform,” said panel moderator Lanet Greenhaw, DRC Vice President of Education & Workforce. HB3 also contains an across-the-board pay-raise provision, where all teachers would receive at least $1,850; higher pay could still be given to higher-performing teachers.
Uniform pay raises fly counter to Dallas ISD’s merit-based pay raises, said Hinojosa.
“The House version (HB3) allows for flexibility,” he said. “I have a philosophical problem with [across-the-board pay raises]. But you’ve really got to have the art of compromise. You’ve got to give and take. But even under that system, we still have flexibility.”
The Texas House and Senate will need to fashion legislation that will pass both chambers.
“This has been monumental,” Hinojosa said. “I’ve been a superintendent for 24 years, and we’re this close to the finish line. Ultimately, this will go to a [legislative] conference committee. They can get it done. Even though we’re in the third quarter, the clock is ticking.”
DRC Senior Vice President of Education & Workforce Drexell Owusu urged those attending to contact their local state legislators, thank them for their work on this important issue, and urge them to support HB3.
Owusu then addressed the group on an unrelated education topic: an upcoming vote on a local bond election.
Owusu encouraged attendees to support passage of the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) May 4, $1.1 billion bond vote, which will improve job training with no change in the current tax rate.
The Education to Employment Outlook Series is presented by Oncor and Texas Instruments.