Texas House OKs slimmed-down school finance bill, citing need to help retired teachers | Texas Legislature

AUSTIN — The Texas House on Tuesday accepted and sent to Gov. Greg Abbott a slimmed-down pair of bills to give more money to public schools.

Reluctant House leaders cited a need to reduce the costs for retired teachers in their health care system.

More money for schools became too entangled with a separate effort to quickly cushion retired educators who on Jan. 1 will be slammed with higher health insurances, House chiefs explained.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate refused entreaties to increase the $351 million funding for school districts in the two bills, House leaders said.

“To say I’m disappointed is an understatement,” said House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty.

Huberty, a Kingwood Republican, nonetheless urged members to accept the Senate’s changes and send the two bills to Abbott.

They did. The votes on the education assistance and education appropriations bills were, respectively, 94-46 and 118-24.

Huberty explained that retired teachers need $211 million in lower premiums and deductibles that the bills would pay for.

“There’s $150 million to make sure we don’t have school districts that close,” he said, referring to districts such as Prosper in Collin County that are scheduled to lose next month “hold harmless” payments they’ve received since lawmakers cut school property tax rates in 2006.

Particularly in the West Texas and South Texas oilfields, some districts stand to lose 40 percent or more of their revenue, said Rep. Ken King, a Panhandle Republican and Public Education panel member.

“It’s not perfect but I would encourage you to vote yes,” he said.

The package also includes $60 million for charters to pay for buildings, $60 million for construction financing for low-wealth districts, $40 million of grants for teaching children with dyslexia and autism, and $41 million to begin phasing out a penalty in the funding formulas for small districts less than 300 square miles in size.

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