AUSTIN, TEX., JUNE 1 -- While Gov. Bill Clements (R) and legislative leaders were trying to negotiate a deal on school-finance reform today, a court-appointed master released his plan for overhauling the state's funding system, declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
Travis County District Judge Scott McCowan had set today as the deadline for action by the court master, William Kilgarlin, after Clements vetoed two finance-reform bills last month, making it difficult for school districts to plan fall programs because of uncertainty about how much money they will have.
Kilgarlin's plan attacks funding disparities by diverting about $540 million in state educational aid from wealthier, urban districts to poorer, mostly rural districts. Texas has allocated $5.2 billion for public education.
The court plan does not include a tax increase, the major stumbling block in the dispute between Clements and the legislature. A third 30-day special session on the topic since Feb. 27 produced a bill that Clements vetoed May 22 because it included a half-cent sales tax increase. The Senate overrode his veto, but the House did not.
Kilgarlin defended his plan, saying, "If you're an extremely wealthy district, you'll . . . be relatively unaffected because most of your money is coming from local taxes . . . " The plan is designed to ensure that school districts statewide have access to the same amount of funds for each student.
Under the plan, Dallas schools would lose about $92 million in state aid and Houston schools about $63 million.
Although Clements has strongly opposed raising taxes, he said today that he would accept an increase of one-fourth of a cent. He called a fourth special session on the financing issue to start Monday, a record sixth special session for the year.