January 7, 2009

From the desk of Allen Vaught

Hot Topics for the 81st Legislative Session

As we draw closer to the start of the 81st legislative session, I want to discuss some of the upcoming issues and topics that are sure to draw people’s attention. This will be a three part series discussing legislative “hot topics” with this first article looking at public and higher education and property taxes.

Public Education
Public education will once again be at the forefront as the legislature convenes in 2009. Student accountability, school finance, and how to attract and retain the most qualified teachers are a few of the topics that will be considered. Legislators will again look at replacing TAKS testing with end-of-course exams for all grade levels while trying to incorporate the academic growth of individual students as well. There will also be discussion of how to better align the state accountability system with No Child Left Behind and federal accountability measures.

In regard to school finance, legislators will most likely look at the current effects of the 2006 school finance bill. While the entire system will probably not be reworked, there will be a serious discussion as to how funding needs have changed due to inflation and to an ever-changing student population. In terms of actual school funding, there may be an increase of funds for transportation and technology use, along with a conversation about the amount of funds subject to recapture (Robin Hood) for each school district.

Texas will also be looking at how to attract and retain the most qualified teachers during the next session. Some of the ideas include increasing funding for teacher grant and awards programs such as the Texas Educator Excellence Grant, improving teacher training, and revisiting the incentive/merit pay program for teachers.

Higher Education
Higher education is another hot topic that will be heavily addressed this legislative session. While tuition deregulation has received much recent media attention, the extent to which it will be addressed is still up in the air. Additionally, the “Top Ten Percent” law is another area that will probably be debated. Current proposals include amending the law so that a cap is placed on the number of students automatically admitted in each freshman class and revising how the law is actually calculated.

Furthermore, there will be a push to create an additional National Emerging Research University or “Tier One University” in Texas, specifically in North Texas. Right now Texas has only two public and one private Tier One schools, whereas other large states, such as New York and California, have at least seven. The University of Texas-Arlington, the University of Texas-Dallas, and the University of North Texas are the top three contenders in North Texas to become a Tier One university.

Property Taxes
Almost every legislative session includes a discussion on property taxes. This year is no different and several ideas are already on the table. Current proposals include limiting the local taxing entities on how much they can increase their rates before triggering a “rollback” election and reducing the appraisal cap from no more than 10% annually to 3-5% annually. If the appraisal cap reduction is passed by the legislature, it would then go before the voters as a constitutional amendment. Another proposal would limit property tax appraisals to once every two years and restrict appraised value increases between appraisals.

In no way is this article meant to be an entire list of legislation and issues for public and higher education and property taxes, but instead is a brief overview of what legislation might be filed and discussed in the coming months. In the next two articles, I will also look at transportation, insurance, health care, and other issues that are important to the residents of District 107.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas regarding issues for the 81st legislative session. If there is something specific you would like to see addressed, please email my office at District107.Vaught@house.state.tx.us with the subject line 81st Legislative Session Topics.

As always, please feel free to contact my office at (214) 370-8305 with any questions regarding these or other state issues. I look forward to hearing from you.