Special Session Called for Public Education Funding

Governor Rick Perry has called the Texas Legislature back to Austin nextmonth for another special session on public education funding. It will be the legislature's fifth try in two years to find a new way to pay for public schools. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The crisis in public school funding began when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that paying for schools with property taxes is unconstitutional. The court has ordered the state to find a new funding method by June 1st or schools will be closed until a new method is found. The third special session on school funding in two years begins April 17th, and Republican Senator Kyle Janek of Houston says the court-ordered deadline will help.

"I think the Supreme Court ruling and a firm deadline of June 1 is exactly what we needed to get something accomplished. None of us wants to be at the switch if and when the Supreme Court says you missed your deadline and we're gonna shut off funding to the public schools."

Reducing property taxes is the legislature's starting point. A blue ribbon Tax Reform Commission is expected to recommend replacing the lost revenue with an expanded state business tax, a higher sales tax, and higher cigarette taxes. Democratic Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston says that's not going to be easy.

"It seems somewhat ludicrous to me to decide you want to reduce these high property taxes by raising the already outrageously high sales taxes. Anytime you talk about having a broadbased business tax somebody complains. Usually it's the person that's gonna be hit. But we're gonna have some tough decisions to make, and it'll be an interesting process."

Lawmakers could also decide to dip into the state's four billion dollar revenue surplus, but Ellis says that would only provide a one-time quick fix that would just delay the inevitable and do nothing to solve the funding problem long term. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.