The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Monday, March 19, to take invited testimony from stakeholder groups — including TCTA — as well as public testimony.

The predominant theme among the day’s speakers was the need for additional state funding for public education. Prior to the meeting, TCTA General Counsel Lonnie Hollingsworth (near center in photo) and representatives of other pro-education advocacy groups participated in a news conference in which the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium presented results from a poll of Texas voters. Nearly three-quarters of respondents favored increasing the state’s share of funding in order to provide property owners with tax relief, and more than 85 percent favored a requirement that local education dollars sent to the state be used for public education and not for state budget shortfalls or other programs

Witnesses invited to testify before the commission were limited to two topics each. TCTA’s Holly Eaton spoke about the need for additional funding and requested that the commission discuss revenue sources. There have been unconfirmed reports that the commission and earlier invited witnesses were asked to avoid consideration of additional funding, and Monday’s witnesses presented a united front in saying that existing resources are not adequate to properly fund Texas schools and cannot simply be redistributed to achieve the state’s goals.

TCTA cited data demonstrating that the state’s share of public education funding in Texas has declined to 38% in part by relying on local property taxes collected by school districts to provide most of the funding. The state has also provided tax cuts without replacement revenue sources that further reduced state revenues available to help fund schools. Accordingly, TCTA urged the Commission to ensure that local property tax revenue be retained within the public school finance system. TCTA also made specific recommendations about how the state could act to ensure more state revenue for schools, including requiring mandatory sales price disclosure for commercial properties. In the absence of required disclosure, commercial properties have been undervalued, producing less in commercial property tax revenue to the state.

TCTA’s written testimony also addressed teacher compensation, which has been a key area of interest to the commission in previous meetings. TCTA presented research demonstrating that teacher experience matters, and asserted that a pay model based on experience such as our current salary schedule structure is therefore appropriate. Research also shows that performance pay models (which have been discussed in a favorable light at the commission meetings) should not be tied to student test scores, and that an adequate base salary for all teachers should be in place before any type of merit pay system should be considered. Rather than performance pay, TCTA supports differentiated pay based on factors such as taking on additional duties, achieving a master's or doctorate degree, mentoring, teaching in hard-to-staff schools or in shortage areas, etc. In addition, health insurance and retirement benefits are an important part of the employee compensation package, and teachers are becoming increasingly concerned about the stability and adequacy of those benefits. Read TCTA’s complete testimony here.

The Commission is charged with submitting recommendations to the governor and legislature by December 31, 2018. As part of the process for arriving at recommendations, the Commission has broken into three workgroups: Revenues, chaired by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston); Expenditures, chaired by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston); and Outcomes, chaired by Todd Williams. The workgroups, which are not required to hold open meetings, are in the process of meeting and deliberating on their assigned areas; the Expenditures workgroup held a public meeting on March 20. The Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for April 5, 2018.