In a move Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-District 31) referred to, on KURV talk radio last week, as a “mic drop,” the Texas House abruptly ended the special session with a motion of “sine die” by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Dist. 127) and a loud tap of the Speaker’s gavel a day before the session was scheduled to conclude.
First, I’d like to take a teaching moment to address the pronunciation of “sine die.” I have always heard it, “sign-die,” but I decided to research the official pronunciation, and I’m glad I did. Correctly said, it sounds like “sin-ee die-ee” with the “ee” representing a long-e. I also looked up the official definition, which read, “without a future date being designated.” It’s definitely a more theatrical way to say “adios” or “sayonara.”
Shortly before this dramatic end Tuesday evening, a heated debate occurred on the House floor as a result of the Senate handing the House a drastically different school finance bill (HB 21) at 3:00 that morning. What the Senate also did was to add the TRS-Care funding for retired teachers onto the school finance bill rather than keeping the bills separate. Many in the House argued that the Senate did this to force their hand in passing it. If the House rejected the Senate’s version of the bill, in all likelihood, there would not have been enough time left in the special session to bring it back to both houses for a vote.
When the House sent HB 21 to the Senate, it called for $1.8 billion to be allocated for school finance. When the Senate returned it to them in the wee hours of the morning, it was cut to $352 million. (This does not include the $212 million both houses agreed to for TRS-Care.)
“To say I’m disappointed is an understatement,” Huberty (R-Dist. 127) told the House before discussion on the revised bill began. Huberty chairs the House Public Education Committee, and they negotiated for two weeks in a relentless, yet obviously futile, attempt to increase the appropriation for school finance and to change the funding source. (While the House wanted to take the money from the Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund), the Senate called for the state to defer payments to Medicaid managed care organizations, causing a number of House members to cry foul.)
The $352 million includes a contentious $60 million appropriation to charter schools to fund facilities, a $20 million grant for autism programs, and a $20 million grant for dyslexia programs, among other items. The Senate stripped funding for programs benefiting English-language learners the House appropriated in their version.
Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Dist. 75) boldly spoke in opposition to the Senate’s version of HB 21 and to charter schools receiving $60 million for facility funding.
“We have underfunded public school facility funding for over a decade,” Gonzalez argued.
As Gonzalez finished her remarks, Rep. Donna Howard (D-Dist. 48) asked Speaker Joe Straus if Gonzalez would yield for a question. Both the Speaker and Gonzalez agreed, and a discussion between the two representatives ensued. (It was a discussion that seemed to have perhaps been planned beforehand.) Howard asked Gonzalez if charter schools are public schools, to which Gonzalez responded yes. And yet, Howard asked, aren’t charter schools funded differently? Yes, Gonzalez answered. Howard then asked Gonzalez if it’s true that since charter schools aren’t able to tax locally, they get their entire per-pupil funding from the state. Gonzalez affirmed the question and added that because of this, charter schools get 50 percent more per-pupil funding than traditional public schools across the state. Howard then told members of the House, while speaking to Gonzalez, that in the budget they passed during the regular session, they added $7 billion more in costs to local property-tax owners while decreasing state funding for our traditional public schools by $3 billion and increasing funding for charter schools by $1.4 billion because of the funding mechanism. Howard, clearly upset by this point, emphasized that 94 percent of the state’s school children attend traditional public schools, yet since 2000, appropriations for these facilities has decreased by 45 percent. In that same period, the student population in these schools has increased 75 percent. And yet, Howard added, in HB 21, the Senate provided for an additional $60 million to fund facilities “for schools that educate six percent of our students.”
Howard called upon her fellow House members to vote no to the Senate version of HB 21. In the end, it passed, but next week I will share more dramatic moments from this discussion and the ensuing vote.
For now, here is my question: Do you agree or disagree with how the state funds public charter schools and traditional public schools?
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.