Governor Rick Perry has issued a proclamation calling for the Legislature to return to Austin on Monday, September 15, 2003, for work on congressional redistricting and other issues. Eleven senators who did not attend the second called session in August are expected to return for this one, meaning the Senate should re-establish a quorum and be able to do business.
Congressional district boundaries have been a hot topic around the Capitol ever since the Legislature was first called to order in January. Members will have to draw lines that satisfy constituents, a task that has been a challenge in any setting when it has been presented.
Redistricting is not the only issue facing the senators in this third called session of the 78th Legislature. Governor Perry has also included issues such as government reorganization, changing the dates of primary elections, and clarifying new fees that will help to fund road construction.
Yet another special session is expected during 2004 to deal with the state's school finance issues. Today in Austin, the Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance held its second meeting to hear invited testimony regarding how the legislature should change the way the state pays for public education.
The committee heard a report on ongoing litigation regarding school finance. Three pending lawsuits are facing the state, two of which are pending here in Austin. The attorney general's representatives reported that the Texas Supreme Court had decided that at least one of these should not be dismissed and would indeed go to discovery and perhaps a trial on the merits of the case, but before the end of the year. The Supreme Court, in its decision, determined that the state must provide an "adequate" education, with a "general diffusion of knowledge" which may or may not be an "accredited education". The court also said that each school district must have equal access to state funding up to a point and that additional local funding could also be used to supplement state funding.
The committee then heard how local school districts develop their budgets. Terry Smith, Director of the Region 20 Education Service Center, said that virtually every dollar that a district gets is tied to attendance and their tax bases. He also said that small school districts are having a difficult time keeping their budgets balanced due to complications in the school finance system.
A discussion of the current state school finance followed. Lynn Moak of Moak, Casey and Associates testified that funding on a per-student basis is complicated, as some school districts gain students as the year progresses, while others lose students.
The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance is co-chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Kent Grusendorf. Members include senators Teel Bivins, Eddie Lucio, Steve Ogden, Todd Staples and Leticia Van de Putte, representatives Talmadge Heflin, Fred Hill, Vilma Luna, Ken Marchant and Ron Wilson. Public members include Carolyn Bacon, Caroline Hoxby, Jack Ladd and Don McAdams. The committee recessed subject to the call of the chair.