The House and Senate continue to disagree over the proper amount of funding for education and this Legislative session’s priorities, state lawmakers from Austin said Monday.
During a panel hosted by The Texas Tribune, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the Senate is shortchanging higher education by cutting funding in its budget for state universities by 6 to 10 percent.
“At least on the Senate side, it has chosen to follow a funding model that’s just pouring everything into the formula without looking into what that does,” Watson said. “For my district, there’s a lot of things that I worry about.”
Texas’ recapture system requires high-value property districts send money to the state to be redistributed among poorer districts.
“Our school finance system is what’s failing, it’s not our schools,” Watson said. “You’ve got some schools that we need to do more with those schools, but the experts are telling us that we need to put more money into certain things that would make a difference in those kids’ lives.”
Watson also said one of his bills, which would inform taxpayers if their taxes are being used for their district or for other districts in Texas, was heard on the Senate floor Monday morning.
Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith moderated the panel and asked the panelists if they think Republicans will strongly support a bill outlawing sanctuary cities, which would protect undocumented immigrants instead of increasing state funding for education.
In February, Gov. Greg Abbott defunded Travis County after Sheriff Sally Hernandez implemented a policy protecting undocumented immigrants from detainments without a warrant.
State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said Abbott is too preoccupied with the protective policy to focus on funding public education. Abbott in 2015 advocated for grant funding for preschool, and he has since lost sight of it, Howard said.
“This is just one example of many that we’ve been talking about, where the governor in particular has been focused on impacting what goes on at the local level,” Howard said. “He’s pretty much been AWOL since the State of the State address. I don’t even know what the agenda is besides ‘let’s quash what’s happening on the local level.’”
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, Austin ISD’s former school board president, said her district, which encompasses areas around campus, sent $409 million to the state under the recapture system. Hinojosa said because Austin’s property values have hiked, it must contribute more money under the system.
“The cost of living in Austin has skyrocketed,” Hinojosa said. “Austin at the time was a college hippie town where people could afford to live. Now we see middle-class families leaving, and so as a result, we have this very skewed look at what everybody owes.”
Smith asked Hinojosa if she believes Texas’ recapture system is justifiable, to which she replied wealthier districts should give back to poorer districts, but the state should increase funding for schools.
Smith said Houston voters in November voted against sending $162 million in recapture payments to the state, and he asked Hinojosa if she would advocate Austin withhold money from poorer districts such as Houston.
“Don’t think when I was on the school board we didn’t talk about (if there’s) a way to do this,” Hinojosa said. “What Houston did was different; they chose a different way to pay back the state. My understanding is a lot of people didn’t understand what that vote meant.”