Friday, July 21, 2017

#TXLEGE: Thoughts about today's Senate Education hearing....

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
But fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Proverbs 1:7

[Note: The hearing can be viewed here; our testimony on the school choice bill can be found around the one hour mark.]

The Texas Senate education committee is currently hearing two bills.  The first relates to parental choice and the second to school finance.  We testified "on" the former, and were signed up to testify "on" the latter but had to leave.

The most important item people need to understand about the current incarnation of the parental choice bill is that IT'S COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM THE BILL THAT WAS CONSIDERED DURING THE REGULAR SESSION.  SB 2, by Larry Taylor, would create "tax credit scholarships" for special needs students whereby outside parties can receive a state tax deduction for donating to certain scholarship funds.  This is a significantly more complicated mechanism that what was discussed during the regular session.  By contrast, during the regular session, the Senate proposed "education savings accounts" which would have taken money currently going into the bureaucracy and given it instead to parents to spend however they see fit.

We testified that we don't like that the Senate has shifted course between the regular and special sessions.  Furthermore, we worry that creating new tax credits conflicts with other long term goals related to tax simplification.  Senator Bettencourt largely agreed but asked us if we'd accept tax credit scholarships as a starting point, to which we have to say it depends on how they're structured.

Beyond that, we will note that we were impressed by an exchange Senator Campbell had with a rural superintendent.  When the superintendent attempted to claim no one in his organization supported increased parental choice, Campbell asked his whether his organization represented parents or superintendents.  Under questioning, the superintendent admitted his organization only represented the latter.

On school finance we were unable to testify, but we would have re-emphasized the point we made yesterday: IN THE EVENT THAT THE HOUSE AND SENATE REACH AN AGREEMENT ON SCHOOL FINANCE (which, to be honest, we don't think is going to happen), WE WANT IT TO BE POSTED FOR AT LEAST 72 HOURS BEFORE IT'S VOTED UPON IN EITHER CHAMBER.  In other words, we want to read the bill first.  But again, we think it's unlikely that the house and senate reach an agreement which would render the above paragraph moot.

That being said, depending on the details, the following broad principles could get this author to a 'yes' on a major school finance bill:
  • Significant movement toward student centered funding from district (ie. bureaucrat) centered funding.
    • Note: We think that's DOA in the house.
  • Significant Property Tax relief: To have the state pick up a greater share of the education tab might be a conversation worth having.  But any increase in state level funding must be offset by a decrease in local property taxes.  HB 21 from the regular session, in the form it passed the house, did not accomplish this objective.
  • Repurposing existing dollars from the bureaucracy into the classroom; the Governor and the Senate have said a lot of good things on this topic recently, but those provisions need to have teeth.
Bottom Line: We're currently neutral on both of these bills and we can plausibly see ourselves breaking either way.

1 comment:

  1. Adam, in the interest of fairness: I was present and heard the exchange between Sen. Campbell and the rural superintendent (1:17:30 in the video). The gentleman clearly introduced himself as the Executive Director of the Texas Association of Rural Schools (, so of course in polling the association's members, he would be speaking to superintendents. While parents absolutely must have control of their child's education (why I oppose ESAs and vouchers), I think it is helpful to have the perspective of rural superintendents on this issue.
    By the way, we may not agree, but I enjoyed your testimony.


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