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Texas Legislature Passes New School Bus Funding Formula

An overhaul of public school finance in Texas that could result in increasing the reimbursement for school bus transportation, highlighted the three school-related bills that were passed during the recently completed 86th legislative session.

The Texas Association for Pupil Transportation (TAPT) reported this week that Texas House Bill 3 (H.B. 3) unanimously passed both the House and Senate on Saturday. It now awaits Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature. Previously, H.B. 3 was approved by the house on April 3 by a 148-1 vote. It was then referred to the Senate on April 4.

H.B. 3 proposes adding $9 billion in funding to the foundation school program, and it bases general and special needs student transportation funding on miles, as established by the legislature in the General Appropriations Act. The bill would repeal the current linear density formula, which reimburses school districts based on the average number of students traveling on regular bus routes each day, divided by the approved route miles.

The bill would also expand the definition of a “regular education student” to include children who are homeless, according to the classification set by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act.

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Progress was Made

Kayne M. Smith, Ed.D., chair of the TAPT legislative committee and director of transportation for Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Houston, told School Transportation News that “I am pleased with the focus on public education and school finance reform this session. We will continue to work with our legislators to find ways to work together to further support public education and student transportation in Texas.”

Dr. Smith provided the following overview

  • The basic allotment would increase from $5,140 to $6,160.
  • H.B. 3 requires that part of any additional per-student funding be spent on raises and benefits for teachers, nurses, counselors, and librarians, with a smaller sum devoted to raises, however, the district sees fit. But 75 percent of the required increases must be awarded to teachers, nurses, counselors, and librarians, with a larger pot directed to those staff members who have six or more years of experience.
  • Staff members who have less than six years on the job can also receive part of this increase, but the district would set the amount.
  • Twenty-five percent of the required compensation increases can be given to any school district employee; the district would again set the amount.
  • Merit pay for teachers was also included in H.B. 3, but it is optional for districts to implement.
  • H.B. 3 would require school districts to provide all-day, pre-K services for eligible 4-year-old students. However, a waiver to the requirement for up to 6 years old is available, if the district does not have sufficient space in its classrooms.
  • The increase in basic allotment also mitigates a recapture by about $3.6 billion over the next two years, until the legislature reconvenes for its 87th session.
  • Transportation for regular education students would be funded at $1.00 per mile, which would, therefore, repeal so-called linear density (as confirmed in H.B. 1, the General Appropriations Act). TAPT reported that calculations for special-education and CTE students were not changed, except that districts would now have the ability to obtain funding for transporting students from a school to a work-based learning center under CTE. Additional provisions would include transportation funding for homeless children and youth.
  • The language in HB 1 for the HB 3 contingency for transportation allotment notes: Pursuant to the Education Code Section 8.151, for purposes of distributing the Transportation Allotment, the rate per mile per regular eligible student is set at $1.00 in each fiscal year of the biennium; the maximum mileage rate for special education transportation shall be $1.08 per mile; and the private transportation rate shall be $0.25 per mile or a maximum of $816 per pupil for both special education and isolated areas as defined by Education Code Subsections 48.151(e) and (g)

Other Related Texas Bills & TAPT Comments

S.B. 11 — Addresses policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools. It would also form the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium. Some new programs to improve public school safety and student mental health would also be established, along with specific requirements. “This includes emergency operations plans, mental health professionals for each district, emergency response training, threat assessment teams, and a school safety allotment. Passed and signed in the House and Senate; awaiting governor’s signature,” reported Dr. Smith.

S.B. 12 — Revises the contributions to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, and would gift $1.1 billion from the state’s so-called rainy day fund to the Teacher Retirement System. Since transportation employees are eligible for the retirement system, S.B. 12 applies to them, as does S.B. 11. In addition, S.B. 12 would provide retirees with a $2,000 supplemental check. According to Dr. Smith, it would make employees pay slightly more for their retirement contribution, going from 7.7 percent to 8.25 percent by 2024. The contributions by school districts would also jump from 1.5 percent to 2 percent by 2025. S.B. 12 was passed and signed in the House and Senate and is also waiting for Gov. Abbott to sign it into law.

Editor’s Note: Taylor Hannon contributed to this article.

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