Legislation to provide property tax relief, finance reform

Officials say a school finance bill passed by the Texas Legislature will benefit Ector County Independent School District.
Provisions to compress the maintenance and operations part of the tax rate, exempt the district from recapture and provide teacher raises are included in the legislation known as House Bill 3. The bill takes effect Sept. 1.
State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, said the key under the legislation is that during the next two years, ECISD will keep $1.8 million that it would have lost in recapture payments to the state.
“More specifically, ECISD will not have to make recapture payments during the next two years, but without HB 3, it would have paid $1.8 million during that time frame,” Landgraf said in an email.
“Here’s how it works: we worked to modernize outdated school finance formulas to reduce recapture. Statewide, recapture payments will be reduced by 47 percent in the upcoming two years while increasing equity within the school finance system. This gives ISDs the ability to keep more of the money they collect from local property taxes to use in their own schools,” he wrote.
“This reduction in recapture is a cumulative effect of the state making an $11.6 billion investment in HB 3 to buy down property taxes and reform school finance formulas,” he said.
He added that the state has essentially increased its share of public education funding from 38 percent to 45 percent.
“The state stepping up has reduced the need for Robin Hood while also increasing the overall support for students and teachers, and I’m proud to help make this happen,” Landgraf said in the email. “While I’m still committed to repealing Robin Hood, cutting it by almost half across the stage, and doing away with it for ECISD is a good start!”
School district taxes are made up of maintenance and operations and interest and sinking for debt. Currently, ECISD’s maintenance and operations rate is $1.17 per $100 valuation and about 11 cents per $100 valuation for interest and sinking.
According to information from Landgraf, ECISD’s maintenance and operations rate would decline to $1.06 per $100 valuation in fiscal year 2020 and $1.05 per $100 valuation in fiscal year 2021.
Landgraf said he thinks lawmakers should continue to evaluate school finance policies to make sure that they are constantly making improvements as circumstances dictate.
He added that he fully expects Gov. Greg Abbot to sign House Bill 3.
“The governor showed tremendous leadership during the legislative process and was clear about making this issue a priority. The overwhelming majority of state money to pay for this was found in our budget surplus, which is thanks — in large part — to sales tax revenue derived from a robust Texas economy driven by oil and gas production here in the Permian Basin. I want to be clear that we did not have to increase taxes or create new ones to boost public education and provide property tax relief to Texas homeowners,” Landgraf said.
Asked what would happen if there is a decline in sales tax revenue, Landgraf said Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s budget revenue estimate for the next two years is reliable.
“Beyond 2021, it’s difficult to predict. I can’t speak for the entire legislature, but if sales tax revenue decreases, my position will be to prioritize education funding by trimming the fat throughout the state’s budget,” Landgraf said.
Deputy Superintendent Stephanie Howard said the finance bill will certainly benefit ECISD.
“We are in the process of applying the new legislation to determine the exact impact. We are seeing that based on the LBB (Legislative Budget Board) that we will not be subject to recapture with the new law,” Howard said.
She noted that the tax rate cannot be set until certified tax values come in at the end of July.
Howard said the bill does include a raise for teachers, but the amounts have not yet been determined.
“There are formulas and requirements that we are working through to make sure we are applying it as intended by law. There are questions about this throughout the state, so before we release any information on the amount of increases, we are making sure we fully understand the formulas and have the correct interpretation,” Howard said.
This past week, employees were sent a message about HB 3.
The message said the legislation requires ECISD to use a certain amount of new revenue on salary increases. The district is required to spend 30 percent of the gain in Foundation School Program revenue per average daily attendance for compensation s increases to full-time, non- administrative staff as follows:
>> 75% for employees on the minimum salary schedule. The message said this isn’t applicable to ECISD because it pays “well above” the minimum salary schedule.
>> 25% for other employees.
Compensation includes benefits, the message said.
“With this being said, we are working with TASB (the Texas Association of School Boards) and other associations to ensure we comply.  This week and into the early part of next week, we will be working through this process. We plan to have a salary recommendation ready for review at the June 11th Board Meeting and approved on June 18th. As soon as we have a recommendation ready, we will share it out, again. We do know that the minimum of 2 percent we shared out a couple of months ago continues to be the minimum amount of increase we will be able to provide. The 2 percent GPI (general pay increase) would take the starting salary to $51,250,” the information said.
“For employees, who are not compensated based on the schedule above, we continue to work on the amount of increase we will be recommending. We do expect it will be at least the 2 percent at midpoint we have discussed earlier in the spring,” the information said.
Howard mentioned that another change coming out of the 86th Legislative Session is House Bill 3906, an assessment bill. It takes effect Sept. 1.
The change in the fourth and seventh-grade assessments are not expected to begin in the coming year, Howard said. The curriculum and instruction team, assessment and accountability and technology team are discussing the changes and will be providing more information as it becomes available.
Some highlights are:

  • Not increasing the amount of standardized testing by adding the writing assessment to grade three, five, six and eight to STAAR reading tests. Instead, the final bill leaves the reading STAAR tests in grades three, five, six and eight as they are.

The STAAR standalone grade four and seven writing tests are eliminated and questions related to writing TEKS including spelling and grammar, will be added to the grades four and seven STAAR reading tests.
TEKS stands for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are the current standards of what students should learn in each course or grade, the Texas Education Agency website said.

  • Adding safeguards to the provisions for a five-year transition period for the state to move to a system in which all STAAR tests would be administered electronically beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. The added safeguards address Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards concerns with the problems with online testing over the years and potential financial burden districts that do not have enough technological resources, information provided by Howard said.