My state representative, Donna Howard of Austin, has pre-filed a piece of school finance legislation that probably would be very popular with local property taxpayers. But it won’t be as popular with the legislative majority or with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, despite all the crocodile tears Patrick sheds over local property taxpayers.
Howard’s measure, HJR27, proposes a constitutional amendment that would require state government to pay for at least half of Texas’ public education costs. At present, the state pays for only about 43 percent of school costs, leaving the remainder – about $26 billion a year — to local taxpayers. The local portion includes all those Robin Hood payments that taxpayers in districts classified as property wealthy, including Austin ISD, kick in to help support poorer districts.
Constitutional amendments have to be approved by Texas voters, and I believe most Texans would vote for this one – if given the chance. But they may never get that chance because the amendment first has to be approved by two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate during next year’s session.
Many members of the legislative majority, including Patrick, don’t want to spend more state funds on public schools, which is what Howard’s amendment would require the Legislature to do. Patrick already has made it known that he isn’t interested in trying to fix the school finance system during the upcoming session. He and his accomplices at the Capitol would rather brag about keeping limits on state spending, while the local cost of education funding and inequities among districts continue to increase.
Nevertheless, they will spend a lot of time pretending to be concerned about the plight of local taxpayers. Patrick has declared that property tax “reform” will be one of his priorities. That means he will try to pass laws to make it more difficult for school districts to raise the tax revenue they need to fill the shortfall in state funding that Patrick and other legislators helped create.
And to make matters even worse for school districts and their local taxpayers, Patrick will try again to divert public education money to private school vouchers. Patrick, in short, is a disaster for public education.
Howard, on the other hand, has an excellent idea. Property owners who really want some relief from their local school taxes and a better school finance system need to demand that their legislators support her amendment. Even if nothing else is accomplished on school finance next year, Howard’s amendment would be a start in the right direction.