Texas House passes sweeping education reform bill

Before debate began on House Bill 3, Governor Greg Abbott made an appearance on the House floor.

Education funding is an emergency item for the Governor and his visit was a not so subtle reminder.

The message was not lost on House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty.

"The Speaker was right when he dubbed HB3 the Texas Plan because that is what this is,” said state Rep. Huberty, R-Houston.

HB 3 was described by Huberty as historic and comprehensive.

"We are changing the entirety of the system as we just said, where we were just giving money out, we are not, we are targeting where those resources need to go and it's very specific." 

Key points of HB 3 include $6.3 billion for schools and $2.7 billion in tax relief funding for programs like pre-kindergarten, vocational technology, special needs and increasing teacher pay.

From the House gallery a group of retired teachers kept a close watch on a process many had wondered would ever come.

"We were hopeful but we were never sure because every session it was like kick the can down the road, but now I think they caught up to the can and we think it's going to go through,” said Carole Smith who retired from AISD, but still has to work as a substitute to make ends meet.

HB 3 has broad bipartisan support and is getting fast tracked, but not a free pass as more than 90 amendments were filed before debate began.

One of the first amendments approved came from state Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie), setting a minimum pay increase for all school employees at $1,800.

One of the most spirited exchanges involved property tax relief.

"What mechanisms can I tell my people back home is going to exist to keep the Appraisals from continuing to swallow these tax cuts?" state Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) asked.

Chairman Huberty said he understood the concern voiced by Schaefer.

“There are other bills that will be coming before this body that deal with specifically with your questions. So that's important for you to know,” said Huberty.

Schaefer was still worried about what to tell those in his district.

"We are going to put a huge commitment into public schools but we are going to have something that is real, that you can feel, and see, it’s going to stick, is really important and right now I don't see it yet," Schaefer said.

Another concern was making sure money earmarked for classrooms and classroom support is not diverted by school boards. An amendment by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) locked down the funding. Howard also warned HB 3 is only a big step forward, but not the end of the discussion.

"We are still going to have to pay attention to equity because we want to make sure no matter where you live in this great state you have the same access to quality public education," said Howard. "That will continue to be an issue as long as we are relying on property taxes, which there is such a variation across the state.”

HB 3 passed on a vote of 148 to 1.

The lone no vote came from state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), a member of the Texas House Freedom Caucus.