State Reforms in Property Tax and School Finance from a Local Perspective

The 86th Texas Legislature convened and ended with a notable highlight: a strong alignment on the session’s priorities between Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, and Speaker Bonnen. Their shared priorities included spending more money in education and property tax reform.

Session by the Numbers

Of the 7,324 bills filed this session only 1,053 made it through both chambers. Of the 1,053, a total of 58 were vetoed. Over the last several weeks, the Governor has signed various bills including the state budget, school finance, and property tax reform.

The $250 billion state budget increases total spending by 16 percent compared to the current biennium’s budget. It also increases Article 3 (education) spending by 10 percent.

Property Tax Reform

The Governor signed Senate Bill 2 (by Sen. Bettencourt – Houston) on June 12. The new law lowers the current 8 percent revenue cap to 3.5 percent triggering an automatic election if the tax rate is exceeded. Taxing units would not be required to hold an election if they are going beyond the 3.5 percent cap in response to a natural disaster. The new law also prohibits taxing entities from adopting a future budget or taking any action that decreases the compensation of first responders. The new law sets a uniform election date for property tax ratification elections and it also streamlines and ensures transparency in the tax appraisal, collection, and rate-setting process.

In a recent article, Governor Abbott noted that “[Senate Bill 2] is a protection to make sure those reduced taxes don’t creep right back up over a few years, as has happened with past property tax reforms.”

School Finance Reform

The monumental school finance reform legislation ended up with an $11.6 billion price tag. This is the first time the Texas Legislature has passed a school finance bill without a court order.
The bill carried most of the recommendations from the year-long, bi-partisan work of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The bill, which was signed by the Governor on June 12, includes a $6.1 billion investment in public education and $5.5 billion to lower school district taxes. As a result, the average homeowner ($250,000 home) will save about $200 per year in fiscal year 2020 and about $325 per year in fiscal year 2021.

Here are a few highlights from the 300+ page bill:

  • Funds full-day Pre-K
  • Expands Career and Technical Education funding weights to 7th and 8th grades
  • Requires Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application completion in order to graduate from high school
  • Provides outcomes funding for every student that graduates college/career ready and access college, the military, or an industry certificate
  • Increases the basic allotment from $5,140 to $6,160
  • Provides $1.6 billion to increase educator pay (prioritizing educators with 6+ years of experience
    • On June 21, Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) approved pay raises for educators. Staff with six or more years of experience will receive a $4,300 annual pay increase and those with one to five years of experience will receive an increase of between $3,200 to $3,600.
  • Regarding maintenance and operations (M&O) rates, the new law
    • Caps districts at 2.5 percent M&O revenue growth rate
    • Requires districts to conduct an efficiency audit before seeking voter approval to go above the 2.5 percent M&O tax rate
  • Regarding recapture (“Robin Hood”), the new law increases its share of the cost of public education therefore reducing the recapture amounts paid by school districts
    • Before the legislative session, RRISD was anticipating recapture payments in the amount of $51.6 million in fiscal year 2020 and a $68 million recapture payment in fiscal year 2021
    • Per the new school finance law, it is estimated that RRISD will not have a recapture payment in fiscal year 2020 and a payment of approximately $5.8 million in fiscal year 2021

Power Lunch Featuring Special Legislative Update

Want to learn more about the 86th legislative session? Join the chamber for our June 25 Power Lunch for a legislative update with State Representatives James Talarico, Celia Israel, and John Bucy. The discussion will be moderated by Mr. Larry Gonzales, former State Representative.
If you have any questions or need additional information regarding how the chamber advocates for local businesses, contact Amy Mizcles, vice president of community enhancement.