Nelson tasks county senator with education finance reform
By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News
LARRY TAYLOR is to chair one of two newly formed workgroups set up to examine the two largest slices of the Texas budget under the direction of senate finance committee chair Jane Nelson.
The Flower Mound Republican appointed senate education committee chair Taylor to head up an education finance workgroup and told him his goal is to find a better way of paying for the state’s public-education service.
Nelson, below, who had used the first meeting of the regular session to create the two panels, charged the other with getting a handle on skyrocketing state healthcare costs.
She told the county’s district 11 senator his goal to come up with some mouthwatering potential replacements for the state’s current education funding structure.
“The proposals must be less complicated, innovative and, most importantly, meet the needs of our students”, she said.
Taylor, below, responded that the 85th session presents a unique chance to take a look at a massive and complicated system, saying: “Now we’ve got a very large structure that was not designed to be the large structure that it is.
“It is time for the new 21st-century school finance system, that we scrape it all off and design a system that includes 21st-century weights and measures… We have things in our current system that are 30 and 40 years old.”
In the past, education finance reform attempts have come under a court order following rulings that the finance system had failed to meet its constitutional requirements. Last May, the state supreme court upheld the current finance system but told legislators they should find a better way to pay for public education.
The court’s decision said that students “deserve transformational, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid. They deserve a revamped, non-sclerotic system fit for the 21st century.”
Nelson alluded to the statement in her directive to the newly formed workgroup, saying: “We need to have a whole new method of school finance. No more Band-Aids. We need to start over.”
To head up the state healthcare workgroup, Nelson appointed senator Charles Schwertner, who chairs the senate health and human services committee.
The new group will take a look at costs in Medicaid, the teacher and state employee pension programs and health care at state correctional facilities and seek ways to contain costs starting in the 2018-19 biennium. It is charged with trying to find ways for those programs to collaborate to seek best practices and cost-savings initiatives.
Schwertner also said this is the perfect time to tackle this huge portion of the state budget, referring to “opportunities” such as “instilling personal responsibility, accountability, cost containment, as well as long-term fiscal sustainability in the largest portion of our budget”.
The Senate finance committee was due to open agency hearings beginning with the Texas education agency at 9:00am yesterday, Tuesday. The hearings, in which officials from each state agency appear to present their spending needs for the next biennium, are scheduled for each weekday until February 15.
• See Richard Lee’s round-up of last week’s legislative action in Austin on page 7.