Texas’ 84th Legislative Session passed a budget that increased funding for the Texas Education Agency (TEA), but school finance experts argue that the increase is significantly smaller than it may seem. Joe Wisnoski of Moak, Casey & Associates covered the highlights of the session at a recent Harris County Department of Education School Finance Council and TASBO Gulf Coast meeting.
“Despite all the rhetoric, the actual investment is not as high as you might have expected,” Joe Wisnoski, a legal consultant from Moak, Casey & Associates, said. The Austin-based firm specializes in school finance policy.
All funds for the TEA went up 5.6%, Wisnoski explained to those gathered at the School Finance Council and Gulf Coast TASBO meeting at the Harris County Department of Education on July 23, but when homestead exemptions are factored in, the increase amounts to about 3.2%.
The main priority for the legislative session, the first for both newly elected Governor Greg Abbot and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, was tax relief for Texas homeowners. Lawmakers signed a bill that would increase the homestead exemption from $15,000 to $25,000, but voters must first approve this measure in November.
While the Texas House and Senate passed a little over a hundred bills, only three will have a meaningful effect on Texas schools, according to Wisnoski.
“Roughly one sixth of the legislation could have had an impact on school districts, but many of the bills did not pass,” Wisnoski said, adding that while ten education bills did pass, “only three are really impactful.” The three he mentioned are the basic allotment in the budget (House Bill 1), the homestead exemption increase (Senate Bill 1), and the fractional funding fix in House Bill 7.
With expenses on the rise and weak funding hikes barely making up the difference, school districts may be looking for ways to stretch their budgets even further. Becoming a member of Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) and its purchasing cooperative, Choice Partners, is a good way to maximize available funds. By signing an interlocal agreement, school districts gain access to contracts for facilities, food, technology, supplies and services. These contracts meet all procurement law, and membership is free.
Next week’s blog will discuss the implications of another Texas law requiring schools to install security cameras in special education classrooms. The law is scheduled to take effect at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.