Outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus says Texas can afford $5B school funding increase
By Allie Morris, San Antonio Express-News
On his way out of office, House Speaker Joe Straus says he will leave Texas with a proposed budget that boosts education funding by $5 billion over the next two years for prekindergarten and special education, thanks to a strong economy.
“We’re going to recommend a $5 billion increase in public education funding, that’s above enrollment growth, and should also be able to accomplish the governor’s goal for property tax relief,” said Straus, R-San Antonio, on Tuesday.
The bump would be roughly 13 percent above current state funding, which amounted to $18.8 billion in the 2018 fiscal year.
Straus, who didn’t run for re-election this year after five terms as House Speaker, won’t oversee the state’s next budget. It’s not clear whether Rep. Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican who’s expected to succeed Straus, will endorse the spending plan. His office declined comment.
After lawmakers failed to increase the state share of education funding last session, Straus said he expects the Texas Legislature to tackle school finance when it reconvenes in 2019.
“I am predicting a good, positive session that finally does address long overdue and needed support for our public education system,” he said.
“The budget document you will see right after the first of the year is sort of my last statement of where I think we ought to go,” Straus added. Details of the blueprint — which is still in the works — have not been released yet. But Straus said funding can come from an improving Texas economy that is driving up state revenue.
School finance is expected to be a priority for lawmakers next year, along with property tax reform. The two go hand-in-hand because public education is funded largely with property tax revenue in Texas, as well as state aid and federal dollars.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is floating a plan to cap what local school districts can raise through property taxes each year, with the state filling the gap. Some educators have been skeptical, however, and worry the plan places too much focus on tax reform and not enough on improving public education.
A 13-member school finance commission — that’s been studying the issue for months — is expected to present its own recommendations Wednesday.
Any plan will take a significant investment from the state and more than 1,200 Texas school districts. A number of costly proposals are on the table, including raising teacher pay and boosting school security.