Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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CPPP: SB 2 and HB 2 Are Wrong Approach to Property Tax Puzzle

The Texas Legislature is recycling a failed idea from the last legislative session—a property tax cap that would force cities, counties, community colleges, hospital districts, and possibly school districts—to hold an election any time they want to raise property taxes by more than 2.5 percent. SB 2 applies to entities with tax revenue over $15 million.

Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst for the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP), noted that when we elect our local officials, we are choosing by extension how much we want to pay for schools, public safety, and other services. “This legislation suggests that state leaders don’t trust Texans to make the best decisions for our own communities,” Lavine said.

“If the Texas Legislature is really concerned about property taxes, then it should join the business leaders and other Texans calling for more state investment in public schools,” Lavine wrote. He urged Texans contact their state senator to voice their opposition to SB 2.

Read “Why SB 2 and HB 2 Are the Wrong Approaches to the Property Tax Puzzle,” by Dick Lavine, Center for Public Policy Priorities.

February 18, 2019

Commentary: Legislators Must Reform School Funding This Session

A new commentary by Robert Lowry, political science professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, says that the top issue for the Texas Legislature should be reforming school finance.

So far, a proposed property tax cap is getting most of the attention. “There may be a temptation among some to do the politically easy thing by limiting further increases in property taxes while kicking the can down the road on other issues related to public school finance. However, limiting or reducing property tax revenue without considering the consequences for programs and establishing alternative sources of revenue would be deeply irresponsible. I say this as a homeowner whose property tax bill has increased significantly,” Lowry writes.

Lowry notes that failing to address the situation would be a missed opportunity that would fester for at least two years, a significant share of a student’s total time in public schools.

Read “The Texas Legislature must reform school funding this session, no delays this time,” by Robert Lowry, Dallas Morning News.

February 12, 2019

Aycock: It’s Important for Public Ed Advocates to Engage

A new TASB Talks podcast features Jimmie Don Aycock, former state legislator, emphasizing the importance of supporting public education. Aycock wrote an op-ed that appeared on TribTalk in 2018 on the state’s school finance woes and the need for the state to increase its funding of public education.

Regarding the ongoing discussions of school finance at the Texas Legislature, Aycock said, “I think it’s important for people to be aware that they’ve got to advocate for what they believe in…it’s important that the public get involved that discussion. Too many people right now are kind of checked out of the whole political process…and that’s really troubling. I think that’s the most dangerous situation of all.”

Listen to the TASB Talks podcast.

February 7, 2019

Opinion: State Should Pay Its Share for Schools to Ease Property Tax Burden

An opinion piece by Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt opens with the passage in the Texas Constitution focused on education: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

The state has “…shirked its responsibilities to provide for a general diffusion on knowledge by leaning on the locals to do it for them…For every additional dollar in local property taxes paid, the state has reduced its level of public education funding,” Eckhardt writes.

“The House is showing early signs of responsible governing with its suggested addition of $9 billion to public education. This will not only increase school funding but also relieve our local property taxes so that they may be used to deliver the services necessary for other unfunded mandates passed down from the state,” Eckhardt writes.

“Tell your senator and representative that proper state financing of public education equals property tax relief,” Eckhardt writes.

Read “Eckhardt: Property tax relief begins when state pays its share for schools,” Austin American-Statesman.

February 6, 2019

Statement: Find a Sustainable Source to Fund Public Schools

TASB Spokesperson Dax González called on Texas legislators to find a sustainable revenue source outside of property taxes to fund public schools. “The state has left it to school districts to raise necessary funds locally, and now the state is relying on local property taxes to pay for more than 60 percent of public school funding,” González’s statement read.

He noted that more than 400 school districts are already taxing at the maximum rate allowed, so imposing a cap without identifying another permanent source of funding could have devastating consequences for students.

“The state’s declining support for public education coupled with its penchant for piling unfunded mandates upon local school districts is a crippling trend. TASB and Texas school trustees look forward to working with legislators to reduce the state’s reliance on local property taxes and to identify dependable, sustainable sources of revenue for our schools. Both steps are necessary for the future of our state,” the statement reads.

Read his statement on TASB’s website.

February 4, 2019

Comptroller Calls for More Public Ed Funding, Covering Inflation Costs

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar recommended in a new report that the state begin the debate on increasing public education funding by starting the state off at its historical average funding level, 40 percent (with local funding covering the remaining 60 percent of the cost).

Though that doesn’t appear to be a large funding increase, lawmakers might take solace in Hegar’s suggestion that the state’s share should remain at 40 percent, no matter how much property tax revenues increase. “That would mark a new way of doing things; under the current system, the state can spend less if—because of rising property tax revenue—the local districts are bringing in more money. Hegar’s idea wouldn’t let the state slide below 40 percent of the total, no matter what,” according to a new Texas Tribune article.

Hegar’s proposal would also automatically adjust state funding for inflation, something school funding formulas don’t currently do. “…Adding inflation to the state’s responsibilities would take a lot of financial pressure off of local taxpayers—at the state’s expense,” the article says.

The ratio that Hegar suggests “…would require the state to put up $5 billion more, and that’s before any accounting for inflation, school population increases and fast growth…”

“If the state can come up with a system to keep state share at 40 percent, that’ll help keep local spending and taxes in line,” Hegar said.

Read “Analysis: The Texas comptroller’s new “pesky chart” by Ross Ramsey, Texas Tribune.

January 31, 2019

Fund Public Ed without Constraining Local Control

A new commentary by Mike Moses, former Texas education commissioner, urges lawmakers to fund public education without capping property tax increases.

“Viewed as a whole, it is clear that the state has been increasing its reliance on property taxes to fund public education while simultaneously restricting local school board members’ ability to fund their schools appropriately…This demonstrates an alarming lack of trust in the voters of Texas by state leaders.” Moses said.

Moses said state lawmakers should do all they can to fund public schools and that local officials will be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. “To safeguard local control is to remain true to the independent spirit for which our state is known. We are all in this together. If we succeed, our children will be well-served—and our future as a state will be secured,” Moses said.

Read “Texas can fund public education without constraining local control” by Mike Moses, TribTalk.

January 29, 2019

Commentary: Whose Choice Is School Choice?

A new commentary in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune, states that, “Charter schools may not actually be a choice for Texas children with the highest needs and challenges.”

As activists rally at the Capitol during School Choice Week, Texas Representatives Gina Hinojosa, Mary González, and Shawn Thierry point out that charter schools are permitted to exclude students, so the demographic makeup of charter schools is often different than it is in local schools. “In too many instances, charters are choosing the students they want rather than allowing families to choose the charter,” they write.

That can include students with a disciplinary history and special education students. For example, at an Austin charter school, 8.3 percent of students are in special education. At a local middle school in the same area, 19.2 percent of the students are in special education, more than double the number at the charter school.

“When charters cherry-pick students, neighborhood schools are left to educate a disproportionate percentage of more challenging children,” the authors write. The cost to educate children with more challenges is higher, yet charters receive more per-student funding from the state per student than 95 percent of all students in Texas.

“Given the state’s constitutional responsibility to educate all kids, it is clear that the only meaningful “choice” to be made is for the Texas Legislature to “choose” to adequately fund all of our public schools and stop exclusionary policies and practices that disadvantage Texas school children,” the authors conclude.

Read “Whose choice is school choice?” by Gina Hinojosa, Mary González, and Shawn Thierry, TribTalk.

January 24, 2019

RYHT Poll: Increased Public Ed Funding, Teacher Pay Are Top Issues

A new poll by Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) indicates that the public believes school funding and teacher pay are the top issues facing the 86th Texas Legislature. Most give their local schools and local teachers high marks—a grade of either “A” or “B.”

In addition to having a favorable view of local public schools and teachers, Texans think the state needs to invest more in public education and support transparency and accountability for results. However, they don’t support tying school funding to the results of standardized tests.

It’s also interesting to note most Texans mistakenly believe that the state covers a significantly larger share of education funding than it actually does. Most believe the state pays most of the cost or pays a share equal to property taxes. It does not. This year, the projected state share of education funding is 38 percent of the total cost, leaving property taxpayers to cover the rest (62 percent).

Read “Texas Public Education Perceptions Poll” by RYHT.

January 22, 2019

Editorial: No Excuses to Not Fund Public Education

A rosy budget situation brought about by an increase in tax collections plus a Rainy Day Fund that’s flush with more than $15 billion of taxpayer cash means that Texas lawmakers have no excuses for not funding public education in this legislative session.

A new editorial in the San Antonio Express-News notes that any fix to public education funding must be sustainable. “It’s paramount public education funding is tied to dedicated funding sources. It can’t come permanently from the state’s rainy day fund, or from extra money announced at the beginning of the legislative session.”

Some state leaders have proposed a 2.5 percent cap on property taxes for school districts along with increased state funding. “Such a cap is far too low,” the editorial notes. “So, on one hand, the state would increase spending. But on the other hand, local school districts would also be out billions. Clearly, this is not a winning formula—and should not be pursued.”

Texas’ economic future depends on skilled workers who successfully pursue advanced or vocational degrees. “The state’s future economy, the experts say, will need this level of educated workers,” the editorial reads.

“There are no excuses for lawmakers to yet again fail on this issue,” it concludes.

Read “No excuses to not fund public education, other priorities,” San Antonio Express-News.

January 17, 2019