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Bipartisan Education Policy at the 2019 Texas Tribune Festival

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised this year's school finance overhaul, House Bill 3

Texas’ biggest public policy festival wrapped up last weekend. Thousands of engaged Texans flooded the streets for three days of panels covering federal, state and local issues. On the education front, several speakers lauded Texas’ passage of a major school finance overhaul. And regardless of political leanings, it was clear: House Bill 3, which strategically invested $6.5 billion into our state’s public schools, was an achievement worth celebrating.

“We all came together to do the best by our students. It was a great process. I think this Legislature, on education, really shined,” said state Senator Larry Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood. As chair of the Senate Education Committee, he and his counterparts on the House Public Education Committee ensured passage of HB3. “The goal of HB3,” he continued “was to give every kid a great education that helps break the cycle of poverty,”

“Talent is distributed equally, opportunity is not, and we’re trying to upend as much of that as we can,” said state Representative Diego Bernal, a Democrat from San Antonio and Vice Chair of the House Public Education Committee. “The nature of the system [under HB3] is a recognition of the difference that [equity] can make.”

Support for the bill could also be heard from the educators who stand to benefit from it. “It’s important to point out how much funding went to rural Texas [from HB3],” said State Board of Education Chair Dr. Keven Ellis, who represents deep East Texas. Seemingly simple policy changes like a per-mile reimbursement for school bus routes and an increase to the state’s minimum salary schedule would especially benefit rural school districts like Alpine ISD, a low enrollment but geographically large rural district in far west Texas. Alpine Superintendent Becky McCrutchen described these changes as “absolutely a move in the right direction for schools.”

Other aspects of HB3 were praised by educators from different parts of the state. Dr. LaTonya Goffney, superintendent of the suburban Aldine school district outside of Houston, expressed her support for an optional extended school year: “We know summer slide is real, so we’re already taking advantage of that.” And a panel consisting of urban Texas teachers featured each detailing an increase in pay, as well as other measures they felt would have an impact. “Funding for Pre-K is definitely something that’s going to make a difference," said Dallas ISD Teacher of the Year Josue Tamarez Torres. "If implemented correctly, we’re going to see some big changes in Texas.”

Correct implementation will indeed be the key to making true change. That’s why legislators aren’t resting on their laurels. House Bill 3 contains many innovative provisions that require districts to rethink how they’re educating students. It may take some time before student achievement improves as a result of these policies. But it’s clear lawmakers will be closely tracking progress in the meantime and will guard against efforts to derail momentum in future legislative sessions.

“We’re going to make sure we [sustain HB3 funding],” assured state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Republican from Lubbock and chair of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee. “I’m not concerned about [losing] it in the next session.”

“We’ve got to get this done. One session, one bill is not going to do it,” continued Chairman Taylor, alluding to his dedication to preserving policy pieces in their entirety rather than allowing organizations to chip away at individual elements next session. “We need to make sure this package goes through with integrity, what we intended, follow through and do the best by our students.”

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