With the governor’s mansion as their backdrop, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on May 23 announced their agreement on the Texas Legislature’s state budget, property tax reform and school finance reform bills.
Standing behind the state’s top three elected officials in the press conference were members of three House and Senate conference committees tasked with smoothing out the sticking points in House Bill 1, the state budget; Senate Bill 2, property tax reform; and House Bill 3, school finance reform.
Abbott spoke first, saying the assertion that he, Patrick and Bonnen made in January at the beginning of the legislation session — that together they would decrease property taxes and improve public school finance — is now accomplished. “I’m proud to tell you, today, we are announcing that we’ve done exactly that,” Abbott said.
Patrick, using a football analogy, 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.”
“This bill resolves equity,” Bonnen added. “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.”
Meanwhile, House and Senate members must seal the deal by giving final passage to those bills in the few remaining days of the session ending May 27.
Abbott, Patrick and Bonnen agreed that Texas 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 and additional tax relief in years going forward. They also will see a reduction in recapture, or “Robin Hood” — the distribution of funds from property-rich to property-poor districts — and increases to the state share of education funding by 7 percent, up to a total of 45 percent.
Patrick added that new property tax rollback rate reductions are part of the tax relief package, decreasing to 2.5 percent for school districts and 3.5 percent for cities and counties.
HB 3 would put an estimated $4.5 billion more into classroom programs, including 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. The legislation also would add an optional month of classes in July for low-income students who wish to participate. Furthermore, all schools will see more money per student through an increase in the principal variable in the school finance formula system, the basic allotment.
On the topic of teacher pay, Patrick said the average teacher in Texas will see an increase in compensation of about $4,000, with more possible through merit pay and other incentives, such as participation in the July term or mentoring other teachers. School librarians, nurses and counselors also would see a pay raise and retired teachers would get an actuarially sound pension fund and a bonus check next year, on average, of $2,000.
Senate approves CBD bill
More Texans could be prescribed a cannabis derivative to treat certain disorders under HB 3703, a bill approved by the Senate on May 22.
Therapeutic use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil was first allowed in Texas under a bill passed two sessions ago, but could only apply for the treatment of a particular seizure disorder that resists standard treatments. In the four years since the law passed, it has proved its effectiveness, said sponsor and New Braunfels Senator Donna Campbell.
“For patients participating in this program, they have had a remarkable and life-altering change because of this,” Campbell said. “That’s compassion.”
State resources on standby
Gov. Abbott on May 20 placed emergency resources on standby across the state in preparation for an outbreak of severe weather.
Put in readiness mode were ambulance strike teams, medical incident support teams, saw teams, game wardens, boat teams and more.
Abbott cautioned Texans that when severe storms threaten, the safest place to be is indoors. He added that residents should avoid areas already flooded and avoid any fast-flowing water.
Dangerous waters, he said, can seem deceptively calm and if you encounter flooding, move to higher ground.
More information can be found at the Texas Department of Public Safety website, www.dps.texas.gov.
By Ed Sterling • Member Services Director, Texas Press Association