A proposal to cut property taxes is not a plan to fix school finance

 

Gov. Greg Abbott has floated a proposal to cut school property taxes, but don’t confuse it with a plan to fix the school finance system because it isn’t, at least not yet. The only effective way to cut school property taxes is to significantly increase state funding for public education, and it isn’t clear that Abbott wants to do this.

In fact, the governor has a history of squeezing state education funding, which is one reason (along with rising property values in many school districts) that local property taxpayers are now paying for about 62 percent of the Foundation School Program, while the state is paying for only 38 percent.

Abbott and his ally, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have always been more interested in cutting property taxes by imposing arbitrary revenue limits that could cripple local services than they have been in adequately and fairly paying for public schools. And, so far, the new proposal from the governor’s office doesn’t change that.

The governor would cap increases in school property tax revenue at 2.5 percent per year, a limit that would squeeze school district budgets even tighter without a significant infusion of new state dollars for public education. The governor has hinted that more state funding will be part of the tradeoff for new restrictions on property taxes, but he has not identified an amount or a source for the new state dollars.

Until the governor lays out a goal for additional state education funding and identifies a source, he does not have a school finance plan, and school officials and parents with children in public schools have every reason to be wary.

Abbott’s eagerness to put property tax relief over adequate school funding also could increase inequity between property-rich and property-poor school districts in violation of the state constitution.

You may recall that Abbott also has broached the idea of teacher pay raises – most recently during his reelection campaign – but has never proposed a way to pay for them.

Meanwhile, we still are waiting to learn what the school finance study commisson, which Abbott and other state leaders appointed last year, will recommend. And we are waiting to see what Dennis Bonnen, the new speaker-apparent, may propose. Bonnen has said school finance will be the House’s top priority when the new session convenes in January, and many new members elected to the House with TSTA’s support agree.

The governor has time to prove he really wants to fix school finance. But a property tax-cut proposal without new state funding is not a school finance “plan,” at least not a plan that would do school children any good.

Abbott wants to lower property taxes and boost school spending. But he doesn’t say how he’ll pay for it.

 

 

 

A-F school blame game tracks student poverty, not school accountability

It is bad enough that state officials refuse to give low-income children enough support to succeed, but it is worse when they insist on blaming the kids when the kids fall short of the politicians’ expectations. That is essentially what the new A-F grading system for Texas schools is all about, and the practice is contagious.

You may recall that school districts with the largest concentrations of low-income children got a large number of the Ds and Fs when the Texas Education Agency released the first A-F grades last summer. Individual campuses won’t be slapped with letter grades until next summer, unless the Texas law is changed. But based on the numerical grades posted for individual campuses, the same pattern will hold true.

Similar results, to no one’s surprise, where found in Louisiana when that state recently released its A-F grades for the 2017-18 school year. As one commenter pointed out on the deutsch29 blog, “The scores track poverty very well.”

The blog also cites similar, historic results from Florida and North Carolina and credits former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (brother of the former No Child Left Behind president) with coming up with the A-F idea. It then was spread by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), as so many bad ideas are, to legislators and governors throughout the country.

Texas, Louisiana and Florida have a couple of other things in common, besides the A-F school grading system. All three under-fund public education, and all three have poverty rates that are higher than the nation as a whole.

Texas spends $10,456 a year per student in average daily attendance, Louisiana spends $12,030 and Florida spends $9,897, all below the national average of $12,756. These figures are based on the National Education Association’s estimates for the 2017-18 school year.

Some 20.7 percent of Texas children (one in five) lived in poverty in 2017. The percentage was similar in Florida, 20 percent, and Louisiana’s was even higher, 27.8 percent (more than one in four). Texas and Florida also have refused to expand the Medicaid program for low-income residents under the Affordable Care Act, even though the federal government would pay most of the cost.

Poverty impacts a child’s ability to learn in many ways, including through poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and in some cases homelessness. Poverty also impacts a child’s ability to pass the standardized tests on which the A-F grades for their schools are largely based.

Low-income parents can’t afford the tutoring and the special STAAR-prep classes that many children of middle- and upper-income families receive. Many low-income parents also are busying working second and third jobs to support their families and don’t have time to help their children with homework. Many don’t have the educational backgrounds to help their children with school assignments or prepare for STAAR exams. And many don’t speak English well.

I am encouraged that Dennis Bonnen, the new House speaker-apparent, has said fixing the school finance system will be his top priority. While he is at it, he also should get the A-F blame-the-kids law repealed.

“The truth of the matter is that A-F shames and blames poor children, it shames and blames the professionals that love those children and it needs to be repealed,” the Rev. Charles F. Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, told the Austin American-Statesman.

The children whose schools stand to get the most Ds and Fs don’t deserve a stigma from state officials. They need more resources from state officials.

 

 

 

 

Texas teacher elected to state Senate in Oklahoma

 

At least two new governors were among educators or former educators elected to public office this week, according to Education Dive. The successful candidates also include David Bullard, a Denison (Texas) ISD history and government teacher, who lives across the state line in Oklahoma and was elected to the Oklahoma Senate.

Bullard, a Republican, was Denison ISD’s Teacher of the Year in 2016.

Both of the educators-turned-governors, Tony Evers in Wisconsin and Tim Walz in Minnesota, are Democrats and have been in politics for a while.

Evers, a former science teacher, currently is Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction. He unseated Republican Scott Walker, a union-busting governor who was no friend of educators and other public employees.

Walz is a former high school teacher and current member of Congress who won the governor’s race in Minnesota on an educational platform opposing vouchers and calling for universal pre-K and stronger recruitment efforts for minority educators.

Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, became the first black Democrat from Connecticut to be elected to Congress.

Five other Oklahoma teachers, Democrats and Republicans, were elected to that state’s House of Representatives. Unlike Bullard, they all teach in Oklahoma.

The Education Dive list includes more than 40 educators who were elected or reelected to public office around the country. It may not include everybody since estimates of educators or former educators who ran for office totaled as many as 1,800.

 

You can vote for the past, or you can vote for a better future

 

If you didn’t vote early, you have a choice on Tuesday. You can vote for the past, or you can vote for a better future. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick want you to vote for the past, a past in which schools are under-funded, educators are under-paid and hundreds of thousands of Texas school children and their families are under-nourished and lack adequate health care.

Texas is changing. That is inevitable, regardless of the results of this election. Trump, Cruz, Abbott, Patrick and their allies fear that change because many Texas leaders of the future won’t look like them and won’t think like them. Trump’s name isn’t on the ballot, but his elected supporters and apologists in Texas are piggybacking on his influence, however hateful it may be.

The fear and racial prejudice that Trump continues to stir won’t change the face of Texas’ future. The demographics of Texas and much of the United States have been changing and will continue to change, no matter how many troops Trump sends to the southern border or how many lies he tweets about birthright citizenship.

Texas will change for the better, but only with new leaders, leaders who will embrace change, not fear it. Leaders who will recognize the crucial role of public education and provide educators and students with real resources, not more lip service, funding cuts and privatization. Leaders who will applaud diversity and work to give every child an opportunity to succeed, beginning with improved health care and other family support services that millions of Texans need and the curent leadership has deliberately neglected.

Leaders who promise opportunity instead of promoting fear. Leaders such as these.

This is a critical election for public schools, students and educators, one of the most critical of our lifetimes. It also is a critcal election for our state’s future. Don’t be distracted by hate and fear. Vote Education First!

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