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.