This story, originally published Jan. 22, was updated Jan. 23 to include a quote from Sen. Paxton.
State Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was placed Jan. 18 on the Senate Education Committee, an assignment that Richardson ISD officials say is a win for the school district.
“In the coming 140 days my priorities will be focused on providing property tax relief, improving student outcomes in our public schools, continuing to advocate for policies that promote a strong economy in Senate District 8 and Texas, and protecting the sanctity of human life,” Sen. Paxton said in an email.
The freshman legislator represents District 8, which includes a portion of RISD and the entire city of Richardson.
“Senator Paxton’s appointment to the Senate Education Committee will provide RISD with an opportunity for direct input into legislation that will impact our students and schools,” Liz Morse, RISD chief government affairs officer, said in an email.
Addressing what has been described by school district officials and legislators alike as a “broken” school finance system is perhaps the most salient duty of the committee this session. Last week the Senate released its draft budget for the 2020-21 biennium, which proposed a significant boost in public education funding.
Highlights of the proposal include $3.7 billion for an across-the-board $5,000 raise for all public school teachers as well as $2.3 billion to reduce the state’s reliance on recapture, a system that redistributes local property tax dollars from wealthy to poorer districts, according to a press release from the Senate’s media services.
Also released last week was the House’s budget proposal, which includes $7 billion for public education.
“The House’s recommended budget makes it clear that our priority is to accomplish meaningful school finance reform, which should translate into less reliance on local property taxes and more resources in our classrooms,” state Rep. Angie Button, R-Richardson, whose district covers a portion of RISD, said in an email.
Three of RISD’s legislative priorities were addressed in the House’s proposal, including funding for the Teacher Retirement System, $109 million for school safety measures, and keeping local property tax dollars committed to education.
But the House’s proposal hinges on the condition that the increased funding also be used to provide property tax relief. While Morse said the district will take “whatever it can get,” she doubts the state can address both issues and still provide adequate funding for schools.
“What I don’t know is who is going to get the priority—education funding or property tax relief?” she said. “… I do think they can do both, but I don’t think that will leave enough money for what education needs.”
Morse said as more details emerge, she is hopeful the state will guarantee not only an increase in education funding, but also, and more importantly, an increase in per-pupil funding.
“I am grateful for what [the House is]doing, and I’m hopeful that it will increase the dollar amount for student funding, but that remains to be seen because of what they want to do for property tax relief,” she said.
The House also proposed a 3 percent budget cut to health and human services to accommodate the increased funding for education, a move Morse thinks will illicit “a lot of pushback.”
Both proposed budgets are in the preliminary phases and will likely undergo a slew of edits, but this first swing at addressing school finance is a good-faith effort, said state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, one of RISD’s freshman legislators.
“It’s still too early to know what the final result [of the budget]will be or what the impact could be on individual districts like Richardson ISD, but this is a good place to start,” Turner said in an email. “We’ll be working hard on the issue in the months ahead.”