Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Editorial: Get School Finance Reform Right in 2019

The Texas House’s new speaker, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, has said fixing the state’s broken school finance system is his top priority. Other state leaders agree that an improved school finance system should be a top priority.

“We’re encouraged to see state leaders finally talking about addressing school finance head-on. But we need to go beyond the talk of capping tax revenue…and make sure leaders root out the sources of inequity in the way we fund public education in Texas,” an editorial in the Austin American-Statesman reads.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance will soon make recommendations on ways to fix outdated funding formulas. “But let’s be clear: The equation won’t get balanced without officials putting more state money for local school districts on the table,” the editorial reads.

In 2008, school districts kicked in $18 billion, about the same amount the state kicked in. Today, the state contributes $19 billion, while school districts pony up $27 billion. “Lawmakers have used the school finance system as a shell game, raking in billions of new dollars as property values rise in Austin and other cities, then using that windfall to decrease the state’s own contribution to public education,” the editorial states.

The editorial urges lawmakers to get school finance reform right. The starting point is providing more state funds to ensure less reliance on local property taxes.

Read “Editorial: Get school finance reform right in 2019 session,” Austin American-Statesman.

November 28, 2018

Editorial: State Funding Needed to Fix School Finance

A new editorial in the San Antonio Express-News notes that something is missing in the Governor Greg Abbott’s plan to fix school finance: an increase in state funding. Instead, his plan focuses on capping property tax revenues for school districts, cities, and counties at 2.5 percent, dedicating the savings to property tax relief and large rewards for excellent educators who agree to teach in low-performing schools.

The editorial notes that the state has not kept up its end of the bargain when it comes to funding public schools (state funding is projected to drop to 38 percent in 2019). His call to cap property tax revenue increases at 2.5 percent is far too low and needs to come with a corresponding increase in state funding, the editorial says.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) is concerned that school finance could be used as a Trojan horse: lowering property taxes but starving public schools, cities, and counties of needed funding. In a previous commentary, the governor acknowledged that additional state funding would be necessary. “…That’s where the emphasis should be,” the editorial notes. “School finance has to be more than just property tax relief.”

Read “Wanted: State funding for education” in the San Antonio Express-News.

November 26, 2018

The Midterm Wave Was Pro Public Education

“The election results were clear: the wave that mattered was a bipartisan, pro-public education wave,” according to a new commentary by Michelle Smith of Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT). Many of the new legislators elected made their support for public education clear on the campaign trail.

To prepare for the 2019 legislative session, staffers at RYHT traveled across the state to hear from educators, parents, and business leaders. In the coming session, RYHT has outlined specific legislative priorities: address school finance in a meaningful way, make sure public funds stay in our public schools, and invest in our youngest learners through full-day pre-K.

On school finance, they note that state funding has remained flat over the last decade, saving the state billions. “In the next biennium alone, the state expects to ‘save’ an estimated $3.5 billion dollars due to local property tax value growth. That savings should be reinvested into public education—not used to plug holes in the state’s budget,” the commentary reads.

On vouchers, the commentary notes that many districts have expanded choice through specialized campuses and new courses. “Texans want legislators to say ‘no’ to vouchers in any form. Vouchers are taxpayer-funded government subsidies for private schools and vendors with no accountability for results.” RYHT notes that the state’s public schools are “…the only system with the capacity to educate the large and diverse student population of Texas and transparency for how dollars are spent and what is taught.

On pre-K, RYHT calls for long-term funding for full-day programs. “Decades of research concludes that high-quality, full-day pre-K has a measurable, positive impact on kindergarten readiness.”

Read “There was a wave, and it was pro-public education” by Michelle Smith, TribTalk.

November 19, 2018

Public Education a Quiet Winner at the Polls

A new editorial in the Dallas Morning News notes that “…something important and all but unsung happened here in North Texas.”

“Thousands of residents in the Dallas, Frisco and Richardson school districts sent a strong message that kids in their communities deserve quality schools—and they’re willing to pay more to ensure it,” the editorial reads, noting that voters easily approved tax ratification elections and bond issues in many districts in the area.

“Now it’s time for lawmakers in Austin to do more to help. It’s the state, after all, that has trapped so many Texas districts in financial binds with its broken and outdated funding system,” the editorial states.

Read “The real winner in Texas Tuesday? Public Education” in the Dallas Morning News.

November 13, 2018

Luce: Restore Education Funding to Ensure Future Prosperity

Former Assistant Secretary of Education Tom Luce has called for state legislators to restore the $5 billion in education funding that was cut in 2011.

He also called for continuous investment in education, arguing that the difference in student outcomes will be compounded over time. “This is about doing what makes economic sense for everybody. This is about the future prosperity of the state. Period,” Luce said.

Read “Texas Should Restore Billions in School Funding, Says Former Asst. Education Secretary,” by Bill Zeeble, KERA News.

November 9, 2018

Vote for Candidates That Support School Finance Reform

Austin ISD (AISD) is in the midst of determining how to cut its budget by $30 million. Students and parents perceive the district as a villain as favorite programs are in danger of being eliminated.

“Unfortunately, on its own this approach fails to address the root cause of the budget deficit,” a commentary by AISD Parent Alison Alter reads. “Instead we must set our sights on a much bigger target—the leadership of our state government and our broken school finance system…The reality is our state government chooses not to provide sufficient funding to support the education of our state’s children.”

The League of Women Voters® offers a Voters Guide that highlights school finance and offers background on candidates. “I urge you to research all state candidates’ perspectives on school finance and vote accordingly on Tuesday,” she said.

Read “Commentary: Vote for candidates that support school finance reform,” by Alison Alter, Austin American Statesman. Alter is also an Austin city council member.

November 6, 2018

Board Member Jim Rice Debunks ‘Inefficient Schools’ Myth

The midterm election has brought a string of candidates for state offices who support giving teachers a pay raise and also claim Texas school districts need to spend their tax dollars more efficiently.

“As a school board trustee, along with my colleagues, I must approve a balanced budget and a tax rate to support that budget each year. In order to form a considered opinion and cast an informed vote, I have had to learn the basics of public school finance,” wrote Fort Bend ISD Board Member Jim Rice.

Rice points out that Texas relies so heavily on local property taxes to fund public schools that districts can’t lower their tax rates. When property values rise, the state reduces its contribution by a corresponding amount. As a result, districts never get ahead when taxes go up. On top of that, Texas adds 80,000 new students each year.

“Not only are the majority of our public school districts efficient, they are struggling to make ends meet. If the Legislature wants to support our teachers, they will find a way to streamline and improve school funding. Until the current system is corrected, there can be no property tax relief, regardless of what some politicians might claim,” Rice writes.

Rice observes that the Legislature has a constitutional duty to support and maintain Texas public schools. “Just as we hold districts accountable for student achievement, we should also hold the State Legislature accountable for supporting a public school system that provides a quality education for all students as the state constitution requires,” Rice wrote.

Read “When will public schools become more efficient with tax dollars,” by Jim Rice, Fort Bend Star. Rice is also a member of the TASB Board.

November 1, 2018

Public Education Needs Advocates

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying the reach of social media. TASB used social media as an advocacy tool during the 85th Legislative Session by introducing the website Texans for Strong Public Schools. It allowed supporters of public schools a quick and easy way to send letters to Texas lawmakers, and with almost 50,000 letters sent during the regular and special sessions, there’s little doubt that lawmakers got the message.

The website has been refreshed and new features have been added to allow those who visit to do outreach through Facebook, Twitter, and other communications channels.

It’s more important than ever that Texans let legislators know that they support public education. “If we don’t step up and speak out for public schools now, the students in today’s public schools will lose the support that is critical for their schools to thrive in the future,” said TASB Communications Associate Executive Director Karen Strong. She urges people to visit now to take quick action and prepare for more engagement with legislators in the future.

Read “Getting Ready to Advocate,” in the September/October issue of Texas Lone Star Magazine.

October 30, 2018

Education Is a Key Election Issue

In states across the country, public schools have suffered from budget cuts. Teachers have protested poor pay and insufficient school funding.

“Americans have long cited education as a key concern when asked by pollsters to list issues important to them, but it has never been seen as one that could affect their vote. But for a combination of reasons, including the inevitable swing of the political pendulum, things seem different this year,” Strauss writes.

  • In Connecticut, National Teacher of the Year in 2016 Jahana Hayes is competing for a seat in Congress on a platfo In Arizona, education issues dominated the first gubernatorial debate. rm of improving public education.
  • Teacher strikes and protests in West Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, and Oklahoma garnered public support.
  • An unprecedented number of teachers are running for office—enough to flip control of state legislatures in at least two states (Maine and Minnesota).
  • In Kentucky, House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell was ousted by Travis Brenda, a high school teacher.
  • In Pennsylvania, Democrat Conor Lamb won a US House seat after making education a key issue in his campaign and talking about teachers deserving recognition.

Read “Education—and Betsy DeVos—are issues in key political races this November,” by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post.

October 15, 2018

Chart Illustrates Texas’ School Finance Problem

A new chart published by the Legislative Budget Board explains who is paying for education in Texas. The Texas Tribune highlighted the chart, which shows that the load has steadily shifted from the state to local property taxpayers.

Read “Analysis: Texas’ school finance problem in one pesky chart,” by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune.

October 11, 2018