Dave Rogers

For The Record

Keep your fingers crossed. Knock on wood.

Orangefield ISD Superintendent Stephen Patterson says this looks like the year the Texas Legislature does right by Texas’ public schools.

“This is the most hopeful I’ve been in a lot of sessions,” Patterson said. “It’s the first time in a long time I don’t think public education is on the defense.”

May 15 is the final day for Texas’ every-other-year lawmakers to act and finalize bills for the signature of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Along with most school superintendents, a good bit of Patterson’s attention turns to the state capital every odd numbered year. This year, he likes the view.

“House Bill 3 was voted out of the house, 148-1, and it includes $9 billion for schools,” he said.

“It’s been sent to the Senate, which has taken no action on it yet. But they’re going to [pass it]. It is the School Finance Bill.

“It will take some turns, sure, but I hope it comes out of the Senate with few or no modifications. This House Bill 3 is good for all Orange County schools.”

While the Senate approved only $4 billion for education in SB 4, it called for spending $3.7 billion of it to give $5,000 raises to all full-time teachers and librarians.

The House version will allow school districts to guarantee $1,850 in pay raises to teachers, Patterson said, with the districts getting to decide how to spend the rest. That could include merit bonuses, going from half-day to full-day pre-kindergarten and more money for special education.

“There’s a lot to do in schools besides teacher raises,” the superintendent said.

“Pre-K [for 4-year-olds] is optional for parents. But a lot of studies show that if you take kids that qualify for pre-K and start them at 4, it pays great dividends in their education going forward.”

The cash injection from Austin will definitely help homeowners, reducing school property tax rates.

“For our district, this will reduce the M&O tax rate from $1.17 [per $100 value] to $1.09,” Patterson said.

Bridge City has an M&O tax rate of $1.04 (per $100 value), which would drop to $1.00, Patterson said.

The M&O rates at Little Cypress-Mauriceville and West Orange-Cove would also drop from $1.17 (per $100 value) to $1.09 if the current school finance bill passes.

In 2008, the state of Texas paid 50 percent of the cost of K-12 public education.

In 2009, the nation’s real estate market crashed and took Wall Street down with it. Two years later, the Legislature cut $5.8 billion from the state’s public education funds.

“In 2008, the state paid 50 percent of the costs for public education. Now, the state is paying 36 percent of public education costs,” Patterson said.

“This will get them up there to 42 percent.”

A study featured on the Texas Association of School Administrators reports that in 2008, the state treasury actually paid $32 million more for education than did local taxpayers.

By 2017, that had not only flip-flopped, but with oil and home prices rising, so did the taxpayers’ share. Local funding topped state funding by nearly $7 billion.

But for the 2020 and 2021 school years, at least, the downward trend has been reversed.

“If the state contributes more, the taxpayers pay lower rates. That’s the way it should be,” Patterson said.

“If you want to improve your state, or your county, there shouldn’t be a doubt: invest in public education.”