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Huberty Sends HB 21 to Conference Committee

05.24.2017 — Today House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty spoke passionately from the House floor on HB 21, which was returned from the Senate with major changes, including a provision that would establish Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for students with disabilities and, as Huberty said, containing "no method of finance, leaving no money to pay for the bill."

Huberty began by mentioning that former House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock ended up pulling down his school finance reform bill, HB 1759, in the final days of the 2015 legislative session to avoid wasting time on a bill that had little chance of passing the Senate. "I think everyone in this body and in the education community regrets Chairman Aycock pulling that bill down and not fighting the Senate," he said.

He recounted the efforts he and other legislators have taken during the interim to gather information and study the problems with the state school finance system. He repeated several times as he noted problems resulting from the broken system, including high property taxes, that it "is the Legislature's job to fix it."

Huberty said that HB 21, while not perfect, was a good first step in what needs to be a major overhaul. He said that, as passed by the House, the bill provided for a method of finance. In contrast, the new version from the Senate contains no method of finance. "The budget is closed. There is no money for the bill. The Senate put in zero dollars," he said.

He went on to say that not only would the increase to the basic allotment in the original House version have helped students, it would have helped taxpayers "who are being taxed out of their homes" because the state keeps reducing its share of public education funding, leaving it to local taxpayers to make up the difference.

Huberty closed by saying that there was only one week left in the session and it would be "virtually impossible to come to meaningful reform." However, he called for a conference committee to work on the bill. "Let's at least try to rescue this bill," he said. The motion passed with a vote of 134-15, sending the bill to conference committee.

The House then passed a motion to instruct (with a vote of 101 to 45) HB 21 conference committee members to not allow any voucher-like provisions in the final bill as well as a motion to instruct (with a vote of 132 to 12) conferees to consider any funds that might be available to fund ASATR or a hardship grant.

The House appointed the following conferees: Huberty, Ken King, Gary VanDeaver, Diego Bernal, and Trent Ashby.

Update: Later in the afternoon Wednesday, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor told reporters that the Senate doesn’t plan on assigning members to a conference committee on HB 21, effectively killing the bill.