State funding for stadiums may halt; House school bill bans spending on buildings not mostly for teaching

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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Football may be king in Texas, but it might end up getting dinged by the Legislature.

One section of the school finance bill given final approval by the House on Wednesday would prohibit the use of state money to construct or improve buildings not used primarily for instruction.

That would eliminate state assistance for football stadiums, as well as things such as central administration buildings or transportation facilities.

Because only property-poor school districts can receive state funding for such projects, they are the ones that would be affected by the move. Wealthier school districts typically pay for stadiums through bond issues backed by local property taxes.

“The districts that can least afford to pay for these facilities are the ones who would be most affected,” said Lisa Dawn-Fisher, the Texas Education Agency’s assistant director of state funding.

Ms. Dawn-Fisher said the agency would spend a total of $427 million this year in its Existing Debt Allotment program, the only TEA program that helps schools pay for stadiums and the like. That total includes money for both schools and noninstructional facilities; she said the agency doesn’t know how much of that money is spent on things other than classroom buildings.

“We want to focus the limited amount of money we have at a state level to assist school districts to build instructional facilities,” said Rep. Fred Hill, the Richardson Republican who proposed the bill language.

The facilities measure is one of several provisions in the bill unrelated to the main issue of how to generate and distribute revenue for schools. Some others:

*A provision mandating standardized school board elections and terms. All board terms must be four years long, and all elections must be in November. Many districts, including Dallas, have elections at other times during the year.

*A requirement that students take SAT or ACT exams. The bill requires all eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students in Texas to take one or the other exam to judge their college readiness and allow them to be compared with their peers in other states.

*A mandate for computerized testing. The provision requires that all state tests be given on computers by the 2006-07 school year.

*A measure requiring Texas to come up with a “value-added” system. The provision directs state officials to create a system that tracks students’ abilities from one year to the next. That would allow, among other things, an evaluation of how much “value” teachers add to student learning.