- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2006

DALLAS — Texas lawmakers rushing to beat a deadline for coming up with a plan to fund the state’s public education system hit a stumbling block last week over how much state aid should be given to schools in low-income areas.

Trying to satisfy a Texas Supreme Court edict giving lawmakers until June 1 to develop fair education funding, under the threat of shutting down the entire system, legislators have drafted five bills. They are in the process of refining and amending those bills to reach a compromise agreeable to both houses and Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican.

Most of the provisions are aligned with Mr. Perry’s plan, which would lower school district property taxes but add hefty increases to businesses and some consumers, and dip into the state’s $8.2 billion budget surplus.

A bill in the House requires part of the state surplus to be used to reduce school property taxes and calls for about $1.5 billion to be spent for teachers’ raises and initiatives to help stem what has become a serious dropout problem.

As the Senate Education Committee was considering amendments to that bill on Friday, Chairman Florence Shapiro, Plano Republican, walked out of the session. Five other Republicans joined her.

Mrs. Shapiro, whose district includes several of the state’s wealthiest school systems, took issue with an amendment proposed by Sen. Robert Duncan of Lubbock and Todd Staples of Palestine, both Republicans. The amendment would allocate more money from the state for poorer districts.

Mrs. Shapiro and most of the others returned several hours later, but the committee accepted the Duncan-Staples amendment, which would redistribute about $300 million to improve funding equity.

“It’s not over,” Mrs. Shapiro said.

Senate rules require a two-thirds vote to allow debate on proposed legislation. Mrs. Shapiro said she had more than the 11 votes it would take to block further activity within the 31-member Senate.

“I take her at her word,” said Steve Ogden, Bryan Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, but he remained optimistic that the bill eventually would prevail.

“This bill has got to pass,” he said.

Mrs. Shapiro said amendment supports are “setting bad fiscal policy for our state that benefits some schools while hurting others.”

She added that the argument over the bill Friday was “a meaningless process because it will not come up to the floor.”

Mr. Staples said the amendment was fair and a vital step toward reducing inequalities.

The system has been operating under what is known as the “Robin Hood” plan. The Texas Supreme Court ruled several months ago that “Robin Hood” was unconstitutional, then issued the ultimatum and forced the lawmakers into special session to find a legal solution.

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