Abbott signs school finance bill into law

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas TribuneGov. Greg Abbott, center, holds up House Bill 3, the school finance bill, after signing it into law at an Austin elementary school on Tuesday. 

It was deemed as the centerpiece of the 86th Texas Legislature. 

On Tuesday it officially became law, as Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a massive overhaul of Texas' long-beleaguered school finance system.

Abbott put his signature on House Bill 3 during a triumphant ceremony at Parmer Lane Elementary School in Austin. The governor was flanked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and several lawmakers involved in the effort.

"You could not overstate the magnitude of the law that I'm about to sign because this is a monumental moment in public education history in the state of Texas," Abbott said. "We did something that was considered to be highly improbable, and that is to be able to transform public education in the state of Texas without a court order forcing us to do so.

"This one law does more to advance education in the state of Texas than any law that I have seen in my adult lifetime in the state of Texas," Abbott added.

The bill's signing represented a capstone to state leaders' laser-like focus on reforming school finance and property taxes since the beginning of the 2019 legislative session session. Abbott is set to sign the priority property tax legislation, Senate Bill 2, during a ceremony Wednesday at a burger joint in Austin that says it is struggling to keep up with rising property taxes.

The $11.6 billion school finance measure includes about $6.5 billion in new public education spending, plus about $5.1 billion devoted to lowering Texans’ property tax bills.

"It's not a secret I have a family full of educators, and I answer to them when I come home each session," Rep Ernest Bailes (R-District 18) said of the need for transformative education reform in Texas.

The spending will increase per-student base funding by about 20%. It includes money to give teachers raises, fund free full-day pre-K for eligible 4-year-olds and reduce the amount of money wealthy districts must spend to subsidize poor districts through the state’s recapture program known as “Robin Hood.”

It also, controversially, includes money for districts that want to start merit pay programs, giving bonuses of between $3,000 and $12,000 to their higher-rated teachers. And it provides money for high-needs and rural school districts that need help to incentivize teachers to work there.

Lawmakers have estimated that the bill will lower tax rates by an average of 8 cents per $100 valuation in 2020 and 13 cents in 2021. That would mean a tax cut of $200 for the owner of a $250,000 home in 2020 and $325 in 2021.

At the bill-signing ceremony, state leaders hailed the unity that they say allowed them to finally get school finance reform across the finish line.

"I love showing Texans that when your governor, your lieutenant governor and your speaker say, 'We're going to be a team,' we do great things," said Bonnen, who just completed his first session behind the gavel.

“The property tax system was addressed in SB 2, increasing transparency by providing more accessible information to property owners, and lowering the voter approval rate for most taxing units to 3.5%,” Bailes added. “This bill will work in tandem with the ‘Texas Plan’ for school finance to provide billions of dollars in property tax relief.”

Other legislation that was sponsored and supported by Bailes includes:

• HB 5, which requires TDEM (Texas Division of Emergency Management) to develop a catastrophic debris management plan.

• HB 3838, which amends the Texas Property Code to “protect mineral or royalty interest owners from fraudulent lease offers.”

• HB 1409, which “protects landowners from appraisers unfairly changing the use of their land and being charged back taxes on land removed from use as land for timber production.”

• HB 2867, establishes the College of Osteopathic Medicine at Sam Houston State University.

• SB 1264, “protects Texans from surprise medical billings when they may unknowingly get care out of their network.”

• HB 1, which maintains the levels of funding for border security over the previous biennium

• HB 16, which “protects babies who survive abortions by requiring doctors to provide the

highest standard of medical care possible.”

• HB 18, which increases awareness of mental health and school safety and providing resources for educators to know how and when to intervene.

"Voting for legislation that brings meaningful change to so many across the state of Texas makes the past six months worth every minute,” Bailes added. “I am blessed to be back with my family in East Texas and will continue to work on the issues our constituents care about most," Bailes said.

Representative Bailes is serving his second term as a state legislator for House District 18, serving on the Energy Resources and Corrections Committees.

Patrick Svitek with The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.

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