School Finance Resolve on Tight Deadline

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You've heard about it for two legislative sessions, the school funding dilemma that arose after a state court ruled the current system unconstitutional. But now, time is running out for lawmakers to make the changes.

School finance is a very complicated and pressing issue. College Station's superintendent Steve Johnson has been following the issue very closely. Johnson has 34 years of education experience and also teaches school finance at Sam Houston State University.

Johnson says most of the focus now is on House Bill 2, which outlines school reform and House Bill 3, which allocates the money for House Bill 2. There are two different versions for each. One for the house and one for the senate.

"Then as you get into the funding formula there's a huge difference between the two bills. The senate version took pretty much the current structure that's in place and adjusted it by increasing some numbers. By contrast the house took the whole system and really just rewrote the whole thing," said Johnson.

The other big factor is property taxes. Both sides want it lowered to $1 from its current rate of $1.50. The house wants the change right away, while the senate wants to go in increments.

If and when property taxes are reduced, then the money has to come from somewhere. Both the house and senate version of House Bill 3 include a variety of new taxes including a franchise tax, and an increase in cigarette and alcohol tax.

The third major hurdle is school start dates.

“Both sides agree that school shouldn't start until after labor day, and both side agree that school should end before June 7," said Johnson.

What they can't agree on is when the changes should start. Right now a conference committee is meeting to work out the differences. Then the bills will have to go before the house and senate again and if approved Governor Perry has the final say so.

The current session ends May 30. If the issue is not solved by then, Governor Perry can call a special session, but he's indicated he won't do so. If that stands, nothing will be done until the legislature meets again in two years.

A judge could also hinder the state from receiving funding and the Supreme Court could also intervene.