Texas House Democrats rolled out their version of school finance reform, a plan that amounts to a massive spending increase but does provide significant property tax relief.
Caucus Chairman Chris Turner (D–Grand Prairie) was joined on Thursday by a group of Democrat lawmakers to reveal a package of bills, some of which have already been filed, collectively referred to as the “Texas Kids First Plan.”
“[The plan] is what we believe is a bold and visionary framework to have a real discussion on public education finance reform, the most important issue of this legislative session,” Turner said. “And I think the most important issue of probably any of our legislative careers.”
The bills would spend an astonishing $14.5 billion on public education, dwarfing the House’s current budget proposal of roughly $7 billion. Turner said that proposal was merely a “healthy starting point.”
“The cornerstone of this plan is to finally invest in full-day Pre-K,” said State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D–Austin).
The plan would include $1.6 billion to establish free, full-day Pre-K, provide $2.8 billion in additional per student funding, cuts a check for $500 to teachers as reimbursement for “classroom supplies,” and appropriates $3.7 billion in raises for faculty members, among other expenditures.
The plan also includes a measure to increase Texans’ homestead exemptions to $50,000. Turner used the opportunity to take a shot at Gov. Greg Abbott’s property tax reform plan, saying the Democrat package would result in tangible property tax relief for taxpayers.
Speaking for the caucus, Turner reiterated the Democrats’ opposition to Abbott’s property tax reform efforts.
“Well, we’re not talking about SB 2 or HB 2 today, but I think what everyone would agree on with the Governor’s plan, a two and half percent revenue cap, is that plan does not lower anyone’s taxes. A homestead exemption increase, doubling the homestead exemption, will lower taxes for homeowners by an average of around $325 per homeowner per year.”
Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen quickly issued a statement in response to the announcement, condemning the plan and shaking off any supposed support to one outlet after the press conference:
“From day one, I have made it explicitly clear that ALL members – regardless of Chamber or Party – must work together in order to successfully pass a meaningful solution to school finance. When it comes to education our children, there is no Republican or Democrat plan. There is only a Texas plan. Partisan division has prevented the Legislature from accomplishing school finance reform in sessions past, and I fully expect all Members to stand united behind Chairman Huberty and the Public Education Committee as they introduce school finance legislation in the weeks to come.”
Property tax and school finance reform, as well as any meaningful relief obtained for taxpayers, will continue to be the session’s hottest topic in the Capitol for the remaining 95 days of the 86th Texas Legislature.