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HPPR Government & Politics

Abbott Begins Second Term With Emphasis On School Finance, Property Tax Reforms

Updated at 7 p.m.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who was sworn into office Tuesday to begin his second term, made school finance reform and improving educational outcomes his top priorities during his inaugural address at the state Capitol.

The pageantry of the event included the Texas Longhorn Band, the Fighting Texas Aggie Band from Texas A&M, a Texas Air National Guard flyover and 19 gun salute.

Then, on a raised stage, while holding his other hand on Texas revolutionary Sam Houston’s bible, as well as his own family’s bible, Abbott took the oath of office.

Much of Abbott’s inauguration speech focused on improving outcomes for both teachers and students by having the Legislature provide teachers better pay and reforming the state’s school finance system.

“I want to make this very clear: We will do what no one thinks we are capable of doing this session, we will finally fix school finance in Texas,” Abbott said.

Initial proposals include a House bill that would boost state support by $7.1 billion, while the Senate version would add $4.3 billion.

The Senate increase would be used for property tax reduction and a $5,000 raise for the state’s 350,000 classroom teachers, leaving little room for recommendations from the Texas Public School Finance Commission to better support English Language Learners and low-income students.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was criticized during the 2017 session for proposing a teacher raise without providing additional state funding to pay for it. During the inauguration ceremonies, he emphasized the importance of education funding. “I don’t care how much money we spend on a building, or how much money we spend on a system or how many computers we have, if you don’t have that great teacher there with that student teaching that student you will not have a successful outcome,” Patrick said. “We’re putting teachers first this session. It’s been 20 years since they had an across the board raise.”

The increase in House funding for public education is contingent on the passage of bills to reduce property tax growth.

“Speaker Bonnen has made it explicitly clear that the House’s top priority is to accomplish meaningful school finance reform this session,” said Bonnen's press secretary Cait Meisenheimer in a statement. “He looks forward to working with lawmakers to increase the state’s share of funding for public education and alleviate a growing property tax burden, while ensuring the Legislature remains a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.”

The House and Senate have until the end of the legislative session in May to come up with a compromise and pass a budget for the next two years.

Abbott’s speech also emphasized the Legislature needs to include more safety and mental health reforms for Texas schools and reforming the property tax system without placing an unfunded mandate on local cities and counties.

Tuesday’s Inauguration on the north side of the Capitol was followed by the inauguration ball, featuring country music legend George Strait.

Ryan Poppe can be reached atrpoppe@tpr.orgor on Twitter@RyanPoppe1

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