Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

FILE - In this July 14, 2017 file photo, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at an event where he announced his bid for re-election in San Antonio

AP Photo/Eric Gay

In the two weeks since the start of the state Legislature’s special session, none of the education bills prioritized by Gov. Greg Abbott has been killed during discussions in Austin.

The three bills relate to property tax revenue for low-income school districts, improving teacher benefits and honoring school choice for special education students.

Local school districts, however, have been hesitant to talk about the pending legislation, as district officials prefer to wait until a decision has been made before commenting.

House Bill 21

House Bill 21, if approved, could add nearly $6.6 million in revenue to Killeen Independent School District’s nearly $400 million preliminary budget for the next fiscal year.

The proposal referred to as the “Robin Hood plan” has become a hot-button issue as wealthier districts may be forced to give back some property tax revenue.

The bill was filed for the special session on July 18 by a House committee, where it passed 10-1, and is now being considered by the entire House.

Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble said “House Bill 21 will not only improve our schools but it will also reduce the need for higher property taxes,” according to a Texas Tribune report in March.

Huberty, of Humble, is a primary author of the bill and believes while some districts will need to give up funding, there are other districts that need the financial assistance.

Rep. Scott Cosper, R-Killeen, said the bill “improves the funding mechanisms for public education greatly.”

He said he supports the bill, and hopes it passes the House. Cosper expects it will come to the House floor for a full vote later this week.

During the regular session in May, the House approved HB 21 but it was denied by the Texas Senate Education Committee’s chairman Sen. Larry Taylor R-Friendswood, who said in early May that he would not appoint conferees to negotiate with the House.

“That deal is dead,” Taylor said.

However, with the support of Abbott, the bill has returned and will be reconsidered over the next two weeks.

While it is still unclear exactly how much KISD could receive in funding from HB 21, district officials say the added revenue would be used to fund academic programs and personnel.

Copperas Cove Independent School District Superintendent Joe Burns said Friday via email that Copperas Cove Independent School District does not expect to be included in a recapture plan that would take away some of the district’s property tax money.

However, both Killeen and Cove districts could likely see increased revenue supplied by more wealthier school districts statewide if HB 21 is passed. Cosper said the law could mean millions of dollars more for Killeen ISD every year.

Senate Bill 19

While both CCISD and KISD have expressed a desire to improve teacher pay and benefits, teachers may not see a state-mandated pay increase during this year’s special session. The Senate last week voted to approve SB 19; however, a proposed $1,000 pay raise for teachers was cut.

According to a Texas Tribune report, the upper chamber voted 28-3 to give initial approval to the bill, authored by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, which would borrow money from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to pay for $193 million in statewide teacher bonuses and inject $212 million into a faltering state-run health insurance program for retired teachers.

The original version of SB 19 would have required school districts to increase teacher pay by $1,000 starting in 2019 — without assistance paying for it.

Nelson amended the bill to remove that requirement.

“Let’s take that off the table,” Nelson said of the controversial provision in a Texas Tribune report. “I want to continue to look at finding the resources to give our teachers a well-deserved pay raise.” She said the Legislature would make teachers a priority next session but that it was impossible to promise funding for the raises in a future budget.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, who represents District 24, voted yes on SB 19. District 24 includes Killeen, Copperas Cove and Harker Heights.

“The Senate has prioritized public education during the special session, and I have supported two important bills that have passed the Senate and are awaiting House consideration,” Buckingham said in an emailed statement Saturday.

Cosper said that while the House hasn’t gone over the bill this week, he does not think non-funded laws should be approved because they place the burden back on the ISDs.

“It’s just not right to tell districts how much they should pay their teachers without giving them adequate funding to meet that pay increase,” Cosper said Friday.

KISD officials said Thursday that they are in full support of any legislation that allows teachers to be fairly compensated.

“Increasing teachers’ salaries is always a goal of the district,” KISD Superintendent John Craft said in an email on Thursday. “Teachers are valued in our district and we want that to be reflected through their compensation. Therefore, we will continue to seek opportunities to increase teachers’ salaries.”

Senate Bill 2

The Texas Senate tentatively passed legislation Monday to subsidize private school tuition and a bill to study the system for funding public schools, according to the Texas Tribune.

After debating for almost three hours, the Senate voted 19-12 to pass Senate Bill 2 creating a “private school choice” program, authored by Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood. The bill, if passed, would give special education families an opportunity to choose a school.

Many special education families have had issues with the state’s public school system, saying the children were not receiving appropriate education. The bill is now heading to the House committee to be deliberated.

CCISD’s Burns also commented on SB 2, saying, “Parents currently have access to a resolution process both at the local and state level that allows schools and parents to address educational issues without forcing a student to be uprooted and moved. The proposal floating around the Capitol does not require school districts to accept a non-resident student. So it is unclear if vouchers were approved by the Legislature, whether or not an unhappy parent would have another district that would accept their student.”

KISD’s Craft said the district won’t comment on scenarios in which students might leave KISD in favor of private schools if SB 2 passes. “The Killeen Independent School District cannot comment on hypothetical scenarios.”

“However, we support any form of legislation that provides students with opportunities to achieve academic excellence.”

Buckingham also voted yes on this bill.

The Texas Education Agency investigated KISD in 2015 for its slowness in evaluating students for proper education, inconsistent student tracking and a number of reasons. As of January 2017 the district has reached compliance by TEA standards.

How We Got Here

Abbott released a list of 20 special session agenda items when he called for the special session on June 6.

The special session cannot last more than 30 days. However, Abbott can call as many sessions as he needs to ensure that the appropriate legislation is passed. Though sessions usually last the full 30 days, it isn’t unheard of for a session to end earlier.

The whole idea of a special session is to start from scratch. Legislators can file as many bills as they want, but only those the governor has put on a list can be considered.

254-501-7568 | quinton@kdhnews.com

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