AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers announced that they’ve reached an agreement on the major school finance plan for this legislative session.

Texas’ top three leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — met at the Governor’s Mansion Thursday. The focus of this bill is to transform the funding of education in the state, in addition to driving down property tax rates statewide, they said.

Abbott began the conference, saying:

“We told our fellow Texans that we were going to work together side-by-side every single day to solve the problems that Texans face. We have lived up to that committment. We’ve stayed together working collaboratively every single week every single day sometimes every single hour.”

The language of this bill hasn’t been made public. Abbott said that HB3 lines up with his inaugural promise to pay Texas’ best teachers more and that the bill will:

  • Prioritize spending in the classroom
  • Shore up the teacher retirement system
  • Allow for further state investment in public education

“I said we will reform a school finance system that robs from one district to pay for another: we have done that. I have said we will put our schools on a pathway to having all third graders better able to read at third grade level: we have done that. I said we will prepare our high school students for college or careers: we have created an architecture to achieve just that. I said we will do what no one thought possible: we will finally fix school finance in Texas and I’m proud to tell you today we are announcing that we have done exactly that — but we’ve done a whole lot more.”

Patrick explained HB3 will additionally cap school property tax increases by 2.5 percent and cities and counties will be capped at 3.5 percent. Patrick added:

“Think about this: For every homeowner — all of you, every business property owner — it will be different depending on where you live and the value of your property, but you have been seeing your property taxes rate going up 6, 7, 8, 9 percent a year. For business 15 percent per year, 20 percent.”

According to Patrick, the legislation will also increase teacher pay. He said that every teacher, every veteran teacher, on average will see a total compensation package of about $4,000 plus incentive money and bonus money they will receive that will boost pay up to $6,000 or more.

“We’re now funding those low-income students to have pre-K. All of them, which will change their live. And make Texas even better…if kids don’t learn to read and write by third grade, they will not be successful in the later years and they will not continue to learn.” – House Speaker Dennis Bonnen

Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he measures this bill based on how it will impact the experience of students and teachers in classrooms.

“[Parents] should know that things will get better, that there’s a tremendous amount of more money, that none of that money is tied to the STAAR test or performance on a test, that we’re investing in educators and that investment is also not tied to any sort of performance on STAAR,” he said.

Bernal says listening to parents, students and educators after the session will be valuable in understanding the true experiences gained from this legislation.

“That’s my measure, my barometer is the parents, the students and the educators,” he said. “They should be the ones telling us and I think they should be able to feel, experience and recognize the difference. We do a lot of things in this building that symbolizes a lot and do very little and I think this is one of the few times where the symbolism and the messaging and the experience themselves all line up.”

Lawmakers still have to vote on this bill.

The ‘Big 3’ spoke briefly about  House Bill 1, which concerns the finance package for the entire session, Abbott said the entire budget was resolved and that they are still finalizing the details for House Bill 2, which concerns property tax reform.

The regular session ends May 27, but the governor can call a special session to address any unfinished business. 

Earlier in the session, the Big Three held a press conference to spotlight their property tax reform plan, which includes a 1% sales tax increase. The trio also held a press conference on the second day of the legislative session to discuss priorities with the press.