Morrison: Education must be a priority for special session

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

July 12, 2017 at 10:21 p.m.
Updated July 12, 2017 at 10:50 p.m.

Geanie Morrison

Geanie Morrison   contributed photo for The Victoria Advocate

State Rep. Geanie Morrison wants public school funding to be a priority for the special legislative session that starts Thursday.

Morrison spoke to about 140 business men and women at the monthly Victoria Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday. Morrison is concerned about how public schools are funded because unless the formula is fixed, it's not going to change the state's high property taxes.

"The funding is very different for each school district; one change doesn't fit all," she said. "It's something we really need to dive into how we can fix it. Making it to where a change for one school district doesn't negatively affect another one."

The government entities that receive the highest amount of property taxes are public school districts, which is why the taxes are closely linked to the funding, Morrison said.

Morrison has 19 school districts in her district, and Victoria Independent School District is the largest. Larger school districts have much different needs than small rural ones, she said.

The superintendent of a small rural school district that Morrison represents sent her a letter about a month ago with concerns of how the current funding would impact his school district. Morrison sent a copy of the letter to the state governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House of Representatives.

"I told them we really need to address this in the special session," she said. "I don't just want to have a commission . We need to address school finance because until we do that, it's not going to help the property tax issue."

Many small districts in the Crossroads don't receive as much funding because they are designated as property-rich because of the oil and gas activity in the Eagle Ford Shale, Morrison said.

"Now we don't have as much (oil and gas) exploration, but they have to give money back to the state because we're still in that designation," she said. "Trying to come up with an equitable solution will be very difficult."

An average of about 7,000 bills are filed during each legislative session, and about 1,500 were approved during the recent session, a figure that is lower than average, she said.

"It was a difficult session," she said. "There were a lot of hot buttons on the table there, and there wasn't a lot of agreement in (the state government)."

The higher education system took a hit this session, Morrison said. All public institutions had a 4 percent cut in funding. The University of Houston-Victoria was cut about 10 percent from last session.

The most significant cut was in formula funding for UHV that resulted in a loss of $3.1 million, Morrison said.

Formula funding is based on the number of students, which is down for the University of Houston-Victoria because the institution is in a transition phase.

The business school transitioned to the Katy campus from the Sugar Land campus, and the nursing program is being reinstated at the main campus, Morrison said.

University officials accelerated the transition and plan to have enrollment numbers back up within a year.

Morrison said she understands higher education was cut because a large portion of revenue went to health care funding.

"The higher education funding always gets kind of squeezed," she said. "Because we didn't have as many revenues (this legislative session), higher education got a hit. There is nothing we could do about it. I'm always concerned about it."



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