Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part story on a recap of the legislative session. Part 2 will run Thursday.
The Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium hosted an 86th Texas Legislative Session recap for educators and organizations at the T.L.L. Temple Foundation in Lufkin Tuesday morning.
The consortium had several speakers during the recap. Executive director Jennifer Esterline said the general purpose of these meetings they are hosting across the state is to reach out to local philanthropists.
“What we’re trying to do is to get philanthropy folks like the T.L.L. Temple Foundation and the place that Wynn (Rosser) sits in as the president and also his trustees involved in conversations about public education policy. We came together in 2011 because of the $5.4 billion budget cut. A $5.4 billion cut to public education is also a $5.4 billion cut to the investments that private philanthropy has made in public education.”
Esterline refers to the work of foundations like Temple as public/private partnerships and says the foundations have a responsibility to communicate with their legislatures about the work being done in their communities because they understand what’s going on.
“We feel like it’s a really important voice to have in the building, so we came together in 2011 in response to the cuts to do two things: serve as a resource and a thought partner with lawmakers as they do this work and to make sure that the Legislature knows that we are a private partner in a public/private partnership,” she said.
TEGAC provides unbiased research to lawmakers and advocates on behalf of the issues of educators across the state, she said. They desire to fill data gaps in four major areas — school finance, early childhood education, pathways to college and careers, and effective teaching — so lawmakers can make better decisions.
After Esterline spoke, Kate Kuhlmann with HillCo Partners gave the majority of the legislative recap. HillCo Partners is a public affairs firm in Austin working as an advocacy consultant with TEGAC.
Kuhlmann gave overarching information on the general session, and she went into detail on specific bills that were hot topics for education.
During this legislative session, Kuhlmann said $5 billion was given to reduce property tax rates in 2020, and added a 2.5% compression in 2021, which would limit the growth in tax revenue (school districts with property values that grew 2.5% or more would see tax rates automatically lowered to keep revenue growth in line).
The Legislature also gave a $6.5 billion increase to school funding, and of that number, $2 billion went to enhancing compensation for teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses and $2.4 billion went to fund enrollment growth for an additional 65,000 students per year.
Article III, all of the spending on education in the state budget, represents about 55.6% of the general revenue funding of $118 billion, she said.
Senate Bill 500 appropriates $9.9 billion in all funds and $6 billion from the Economic Stabilization Fund. About $1.1 billion was spent for teacher retirement, including an extra annuity check.
It also dedicates $806 in aid for Hurricane Harvey-affected schools and $110 million for school hardening and safety.
The school funding increase shifted the state’s share of public education costs from 38% to 45%.
“That is significant because we heard from many organizations and advocates out in the field that the burden had shifted over time to depending more on local property taxes and less on the state,” Kuhlmann said. “A lot of people, including the Legislature, wanted to see that shifted.”
The basic allotment, the amount of state and local funding a district receives to cover the costs of providing a basic instructional program to an “average” student in an “average” district, was raised from $5,140 to $6,160.
Certain things that were covered under separate allotments were thrown under the basic allotment, however, so that increase isn’t a total increase.
In addition, the Legislature fully funded a full day of school for eligible 4-year-olds. Only a half day was funded previously. That was funded through an Early Education Allotment for K-3.
The funding calls for 30% of districts’ revenue gain to be used for educator pay raise. Exactly 75% should be used for teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses, prioritizing veteran teachers with five or more years experience. Exactly 25% can then be used for full-time district employees.