One day after passing sweeping tax reform legislation, the Senate approved the education component of its plan to reduce property taxes and provide an education for the students of Texas. The Committee Substitute to House Bill 2, by Plano Senator Florence Shapiro, further lowers property taxes and moves the focus of education toward college readiness. It also reduces school finance recapture, where money from wealthier school districts is redistributed toward poorer districts.
The new tax plan, passed by the Senate early Wednesday morning, would have lowered property taxes by 20 cents per $100 valuation, but CSHB 2 would reduce property taxes even more, and sooner. The bill would set the local property tax rate at $1.15 per $100 valuation on September 1, 2005 and would lower it by five more cents in 2006. Local districts would be allowed to set a local enrichment rate of five additional cents each biennium, up to 15 cents total after six years. Voters would have to approve the implementation of any local enrichments.
The bill also provides teacher pay raises, bringing Texas teachers closer to the national average. For the 2005-2006 school year, teachers would earn an additional $2,000 per year, $1,000 of which comes from the redirection of the teacher health insurance pass-through. The year after that, teachers would get an additional $1,500, with the potential to earn more through performance based incentives.
The focus of Texas' educational system under CSHB 2 would become readiness for post-secondary education, and school curriculum would be brought in line with that goal. It would also provide state funding for students who want to take college entrance exams, like the SAT, and would improve electronic student records to link public schools and state universities.
Charter schools get significant attention in this bill, and they would be subject to more state accountability. All open-enrollment charter schools that meet certain performance standards would become public charter districts on August 1 and would be subject to the same accountability standards as all public schools. The bill would also grant up to $1,000 per student for charter schools that demonstrate exemplary or recognized ratings.
The bill also contains a provision that would move the start date for all public schools, except year-round schools to September. School districts could not start the school year before the second Tuesday after Labor Day, nor end after June 7.
As the bill moves to conference committee, Shapiro says she is optimistic about working with the House. "I think we've got a lot of philosophical ideas that are exactly the same, but we may be going at them from a little different direction," said Shapiro. "We're very anxious to get things moving forward, and I feel very confident that we'll be able to work things through." She added that the House and Senate will begin to work on a final product to send to the Governor's desk immediately.