Several superintendents of Rio Grande Valley school districts are welcoming an increase in state funding as a result of school finance reforms adopted by the Texas Legislature, despite details not being fully fleshed out.
House Bill 3, which has passed both chambers and awaits the governor’s signature, will increase the state’s allotment to local districts per student by about 20%, or $1,000, from $5,140 to $6,160.
It also finances free full-day pre-K programs for 4-year-olds using state funds, which will lower property tax rates by about 8 cents per $100 valuation in 2020, and provides pay bumps for teachers and staff.
In addition, HB 3’s provisions will provide more funding for special education and students from “disadvantaged” backgrounds. Although local school officials say exact numbers are not finalized, the Texas Tribune reported that the bill will pump $6.5 billion toward public education and teacher pay, and another $5.1 billion to compensate for lower school district taxes statewide.
Some, however, have expressed concern that while districts’ projected revenue will now have to accommodate for expenditures such as pay raises, uncertainty remains about whether school financing efforts could change again in future sessions.
Another component of the bill is the easing of recapture payments, in which wealthier districts subsidize or relocate funds to more impoverished districts. Most of the schools in the Rio Grande Valley do not have to make these payments, other than Point Isabel ISD.
“It’s the most consequential, educational funding bill and change in over a decade,” said Superintendent Daniel King of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district.
Having the state allocate more money into public education is a positive, reversing a downward trend in state funding, he said. King commended lawmakers for taking education as a responsibility of the state and having the political will to put that in action.
The PSJA school district will specifically see an increase of about $20 million, which will go toward pay raises for teachers and staff.
Donna school district Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez said the district already incorporates full-day pre-K programs, but welcomes the extra funding.
The increased salaries and programs resulting from the legislative session is a benefit, but with the session meeting every other year, it’s important to have consistency, he said.
“We hope that the state will be able to maintain the funding,” Azaiez said.
Roma school district Superintendent Carlos Guzman said he is not completely satisfied with the distribution, but overall it looks positive for the district.
“Our voices were heard… House Bill 3 was an outcome of teachers being heard through (their) vote,” Guzman said.
Carolina Perez, superintendent for the Mission school district, said she is “optimistic” of HB 3’s impact, believing the details look “promising” for the area.
“As a district we had already identified the need to close the salary gap for teachers with five or more years of experience,” Perez said. “We are very pleased that House Bill 3 makes some funding available for us to (meet) this dire need.”
The district has plans to offer pre-K programs for 3-year-olds in some of its elementary schools, and the bill’s plan to fund early education programs will help the district enable this program, she said.
Budget workshops are planned to analyze what the bill will provide, calling it a “win-win for all school districts in Texas.”
McAllen school board President Marco Suarez praised the potential compensation for teachers and the staff who enable schools to operate.
“I think that public schools have been neglected for a long time, and I commend our local representatives for pushing it through,” he said. However, Suarez noted it does not have the governor’s final approval as of yet, saying school financing should be a “top priority” for not only the current year but for future legislative sessions.
Sandra Herrera, vice president of the McAllen chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said as the bill moved through the legislative process, it had several moving parts.
Herrera said there is a positive outcome with an increase in teacher pay and that it is “better than it’s been,” but feels “skeptical” about the finer details. She added she supports public education, but the measures in the legislature may be kowtowing toward a “sleeping giant.”