House Defeats School Reform Bill With AM-Teacher Layoffs, Bjt
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ The House rejected a school finance reform plan Wednesday, five days before a court order would cut off state school spending.
The 87-63 vote put the Legislature on a collision course with the state Supreme Court, which twice has ordered lawmakers to equitably fund poor school districts.
″I am begging you, if you believe in legislative control of your schools, vote for this bill today,″ said Democratic Rep. Ernestine Glossbrenner, the bill’s sponsor.
Lawmakers are under a Monday deadline imposed by the court.
Texas is one of about a dozen states where courts have overturned school finance systems in recent years.
Opponents of the measure in Texas said it was unconstitutional, too expensive and gave the state too much power over local school districts.
The measure ″is like coming face-to-face with your worst socialistic nightmare,″ said Republican Rep. Glenn Repp.
The bill would have shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in local property tax money from wealthier to poorer school districts within 183 new taxing districts.
One estimate put its state and local tab at $13.9 billion over the next five years.
Democratic Sen. Carl Parker, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, slammed the House’s action as ″irresponsible.″ The Senate approved the bill 21-10 on Tuesday.
″The no-nothings combined with the do-nothings to defeat a bill that was in the middle of the road and responded to the court’s mandate,″ he said.
Parker said schools could close early and teachers might not get paid if the measure was defeated.
Democratic House Speaker Gib Lewis urged state officials to take whatever measures were necessary to keep schools open, even if it meant defying the court order.
Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock said he would ask state Attorney General Dan Morales to file a motion asking the court for more time. Morales said it would be premature to do that before Monday.
In a unanimous ruling the high court struck down as unconstitutional the current $14 billion-a-year school finance system.
A group of poor school districts had sued the state over disparities in education funding, caused by wide differences in local property wealth. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund provided legal counsel.
The court agreed with the plaintiffs twice, saying the state was not providing an efficient form of education as mandated by the state constitution.
Democratic Rep. Eddie Cavazos, leader of the House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, threatened to oppose all major legislation until a reform measure passes.
″The members had a chance to pass a bill that would have addressed the needs of minority children, of all children in the state of Texas,″ he said, ″and the difference in the vote tells us there’s no interest in doing that.″
Gov. Ann Richards, who did not actively push the reform bill, said she likely would get involved in trying to shape a new compromise.