Category Archives: school finance

School funding architect is now hurricane czar


It is encouraging that Gov. Greg Abbott has appointed John Sharp to be his hurricane czar, the person who will be responsible for overseeing the huge task of rebuilding Texas from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.

Sharp is an experienced government policymaker with a reputation as a doer, not an ideologue or bombastic tweeter. He has had a long career as Legislative Budget Board examiner, legislator, Railroad Commissioner, state comptroller and now Texas A&M chancellor. Sharp also was an architect of our current, inadequate school funding system, although the ultimate failure isn’t his fault.

Sharp chaired a task force appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, his one-time political rival, that proposed the tax plan that the Legislature enacted in 2006 to temporarily lower school property taxes and replace the old state franchise tax with the under-performing margins tax as a new source of revenue for schools and other state programs.

This alleged “swap” allowed Perry to brag about “cutting” property taxes, even though the reductions were transitory and were soon wiped out as taxes continued to rise with increasing property values. The new margins tax never was intended to generate as much revenue as the franchise tax, and it has performed even worse than expected.

From the day the margins tax was enacted, business people have continuously whined about it, and the Legislature has responded with a series of cuts. This year, the legislative majority went so far as to order an eventual phaseout of the margins tax without approving a source of revenue to replace it.

Meanwhile, school property taxes continue to increase as state funding for public education continues to decline and schools remain underfunded. These include schools in Harvey’s path that now face huge recovery challenges compounded by enormous losses to their property tax bases.

Schools do their jobs everyday, not just during emergencies


The news media have carried numerous stories this week about the challenges that Hurricane Harvey has imposed on public schools and the people who work in them. Some schools were heavily damaged by winds or floodwaters and will be closed for weeks or months, displacing students and educators alike. Many school districts outside of the storm area are accepting thousands of students who can’t return to their homes or their familiar schools anytime soon.

One of these districts is Austin ISD, which, according to the Austin American-Statesman, could end up accepting several thousand refugee students from storm-battered districts. This is what we expect our educators to do, and they do it. Ironically, though, AISD’s willingness to go the extra mile to do its job amplifies the refusal of some state officials to do theirs, preferring instead to transfer the task to local taxpayers.

The American-Statesman also pointed out, in a story linked below, how Austin ISD residents are about to be clobbered again with higher property taxes, even as their school district begins welcoming evacuees. Because of rising property values and the refusal of many of our state leaders to consider significant increases in state education funding, the average homeowner in AISD will pay an additional $374 this year in school property taxes.

That will bring the average school tax bill in AISD to $4,291, and about $1,700 of that will go to the state to be redistributed among poorer school districts under the so-called Robin Hood law. Because of pricey real estate within its boundaries, AISD pays more Robin Hood money to the state – an anticipated $534 million this year — than any other school district.

This law, enacted in 1993, was designed to comply with a court order to reduce inequities between property rich and property poor districts, but it has become outdated. Austin ISD is considered wealthy because of its tax base, even though more than half of its students are from low-income families. The law is now being abused by state leaders to let local property taxpayers relieve them of their constitutional duty to adequately fund public education.

The more money local taxpayers fork over, the more state officials can brag about keeping state taxes low. Some of these same officials, notably Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, also hypocritically pretend to be concerned about the size of local property tax bills. But don’t believe them because they aren’t willing to really do something about it. I am not talking about emergency funding for hurricane recovery. I am talking about increasing everyday, basic school financial support.

Remember how Abbott and Patrick tried to con the Legislature into enacting Senate Bill 1 during the recent special session? That bill, which failed, wouldn’t have reduced property taxes in Austin ISD or any other district. It didn’t even apply to school taxes. But it would have made it more difficult for cities and counties to raise the necessary revenue to provide police and fire protection and other necessary public services.

Most local property taxes are for schools. And the only way to reduce them is to increase state education funding and change the school finance system, which Speaker Joe Straus and a majority of House members tried to do twice this year, during the regular and summer special sessions. The Senate majority, led by Dan Patrick, killed both efforts.



Educators, children continue to suffer from election results


No sooner had the special legislative session come to a merciful end than the nanny-nanny-boo-boo duet started whining. That would be Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Call it a trio if you want to throw in Sen. Paul Bettencourt, the Patrick clone who also wailed away the session’s demise.

The Legislature had adjourned, but kindergarten was still in class.

All three were upset that the House majority, led by the adult in the room, Speaker Joe Straus, had killed a large chunk of Abbott’s and Patrick’s right-wing session agenda, including the despicable bathroom bill, private school vouchers and several undemocratic proposals that sought to impose their own ideological will over the local control decisions of city governments.

They also whined, of course, about the failure to pass an alleged property tax “relief” bill, Senate Bill 1, which the governor had designated his top priority of the session. Senate Bill 1, however, was a hoax. It wouldn’t have cut anyone’s taxes by a dime. Abbott knew that, Patrick knew that and so did Bettencourt. But they still are trying to mislead Texans.

All the bill would have done would have put tighter, arbitrary limits on the abilities of locally elected city and county officials to raise the revenue necessary to hire police officers and firefighters, ensure clean water and provide other essential public services that Texans depend upon every day.

The Legislature did have an opportunity to actually lower property taxes during the session, and Straus and the House majority tried to do that by passing a bill to increase state funding for public schools by $1.8 billion. Increasing state funding for education is the only way to lower property taxes in Texas because property taxes now account for most of the money used to support public schools, a fact that Abbott, Patrick and their allies continue to ignore. Patrick’s Senate allies gutted the House bill.

The state now pays only 38 percent of the public education budget, and that figure will continue to fall as long as Abbott and Patrick et al continue to pass the buck and ignore their constitutional responsibility to adequately and equitably pay for public education.

Bettencourt, the SB1 sponsor, predicted Texas taxpayers will be “furious” over the bill’s failure. He, Abbott and Patrick blamed the House and Straus, which offered the Senate a watered-down version of SB1 that Patrick found objectionable.


Most taxpayers, at least those who are paying attention, are beginning to recognize the Abbott-Patrick-Bettencourt ruse for what it is, a way to pass the blame for their own failures. All taxpayers have every reason to be furious about that.

Abbott and Patrick are lashing out at Straus with the obvious intent to paint a right-wing target on him in next year’s Republican primary.  Texas can ill-afford to lose Straus as speaker, but Abbott and Patrick obviously are more interested in advancing their own ideological agenda than strengthening Texas’ future.

“Elections matter,” Abbott said.

They certainly do. And that’s why Texans now have a governor and a Senate majority that continue to neglect school children, educators and taxpayers. Voters need to start doing better.




Schools need more state funding, not another study


Sometimes, legislators propose studies to actually try to learn something about a new or complex issue. Sometimes, as the Senate leadership is doing now with school finance, they propose studies to avoid doing the right thing.

Texas’ school finance system has been studied more times than Donald Trump has tweeted a lie….Well, maybe not that many times, but certainly the issue of school funding in Texas has been studied enough over the years to know what needs to be done. The Legislature needs to provide more state resources and a more equitable distribution of those resources among school districts.

Last spring and now during the special session, Speaker Joe Straus and the House have been trying to move in that direction, only to be blocked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate majority. The latest school finance legislation approved by the House is not perfect. It would provide an additional $1.8 billion for school funding during this budget period through an accounting maneuver instead of dipping into the $10 billion Rainy Day Fund. But it would be a start in the right direction that could be continued and strengthened with improved state appropriations during the next regular session in 2019.

But Senate leaders, whose primary interest in public schools is how to privatize them, beginning with school vouchers, has again slammed the door. Senate Education Chairman Larry Taylor rejected the House plan as a “political fix” and called instead for a commission to study current school funding.

Another study, however, would delay financial assistance for schools while Texas remains in the lower tier of states in school funding. Meanwhile, enrollment will continue to increase by about 80,000 children a year, and school property taxes will continue to increase.

It doesn’t take another study for legislators to know that the state’s share of school funding has plunged from 67 percent in the mid-1980s to 38 percent now. And it doesn’t take another study to know that this buck-passing by the legislative majority is the main reason local property taxes continue to climb.

But there is another reason Senate leaders want to “study” school funding some more. They want to regroup on their No. 1 education priority – school vouchers and other privatization schemes – and try again to ram them down the House’s throat in 2019, complete with the blessings of a “blue ribbon” study panel that would include few, if any, teachers.

That would be a political hoax.




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