The House passed its version of a school finance package after several hours of debate last week and then packed-up for the Memorial Day weekend.
The House bill creates a new school finance formula similar to one that was replaced two years ago by a block grant program for schools. (Recall the state supreme court ruled that block grant program unconstitutional and has threatened to disallow any further funding for schools unless a new formula is in place by June 30.) The bill created by the House increases K-12 spending by $180 million next year and $100 million the year after and puts more money into at-risk students in an attempt to satisfy the court. Many legislators who supported the bill expressed concerns that it still does not adequately fund K-12 education and that, if the court agrees, the legislature will be forced back into special session this summer.
On the other side of the Statehouse, the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance passed out its version of a school finance formula last week that, similar to the House bill, returns to a system of weightings for students with specialized needs due to poverty, language and other issues. The full Senate adjourned without taking the bill up for debate, leaving this crucial issue the main item of business for this week.
Meanwhile, a conference committee made up of 3 House members and 3 Senators continued to hammer-out details of an income tax bill. Ultimately, the package was deemed unready so the debate was postponed until this week. In broad terms, the tax bill would raise the lowest income tax rate from 2.7% to 3.1%, raise the highest rate from 4.6% to 5.7% and add a new middle rate of 5.25%. It would also repeal the LLC exemption and allow for deduction of medical expenses again. The bill would raise about $488 million the first year and $460 million after that. Other details include a one percent drop in the sales tax on food beginning in 2020, a sales tax on certain services beginning September 1 and a one-year moratorium on STAR bond districts as of September 1.
This package is not given a high likelihood of passage, which presumably explains why the debate of the bill was put off until this week.