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Senate Panel Focuses on Funding of Public Education

PUBLIC EDUCATION -- BISD Superintendent Lacy Freeman (pictured second) meets with the House Committee on Public Education.

AUSTIN ? When Texas legislatures meet every two years, lawmakers? singular, must-do assignment is to produce a state budget.

Toward that goal, the Senate Finance Committee held meetings on Feb. 11, 12 and 13 to work on Article III of Senate Bill 1. That article focuses on the public and higher education parts of the state budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

The meetings, replete with acronym-spattered expert testimony from the Texas Education Agency, the Teacher Retirement System and others, dealt with funding areas within public education. Lumped together, public education funding almost certainly will require more than half of the state?s general revenue. The ballpark estimate of total general revenue is $112 billion.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said SB 1 includes:

? $2.4 billion to fund enrollment growth for public education, based on an estimated 65,000 additional students per year;

? $3.7 billion in additional funding for teacher pay raises;

? $2.3 billion to reduce reliance on recapture under the so-called ?Robin Hood? system;

? $8 million, an increase of $3 million, for Pathways in Technology Early College High School, a partnership between technology-based companies and public education; and

? $230 million to maintain current health insurance premiums and benefits for our retired teachers through TRS-Care.

Nelson also mentioned SB 500, the supplemental appropriations bill, which as presently written includes $100 million for school safety, more than $600 million to address Hurricane Harvey-related expenses for public education and $300 million to address the Teachers Retirement System pension.

?As a former teacher,? Nelson said, ?I want to ensure that our schools have the resources necessary to properly educate our students and prepare them for success. Education is the great equalizer, and we need to make sure all Texas students have access to a quality education,? Nelson added.