Dan Huberty

Abbott and Patrick love those increases in your property taxes


Rising property values and property tax bills may be pricing you out of your home, but Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their allies in the Legislature don’t care because your local tax bills help them do a couple of things.

First, your school property taxes help them balance the state budget, the entire state budget, not just the public education portion of the budget. They could even use your school taxes to help subsidize incentives for a multi-billion-dollar corporation they are trying to lure to Texas.

And, second, your property taxes help them avoid having to raise the sales tax and other state taxes, so they can keep bragging about being fiscally “responsible.” Sure, it’s a political con game, but they are betting they can get away with it on Election Day.

Here is how Abbott and Patrick have been abusing Texas’ system of using both state and local funds to pay for education.

Not too many years ago, the state used to split the cost of education, more or less, with local property taxpayers. But that has changed. During the years that Abbott and Patrick have been in office, they have allowed the state’s share to continue to slide and the local share to increase. The disparity has reached the point that, according to the Legislative Budget Board, local property taxpayers will be paying 62 percent of the Foundation School Program, the basic school finance plan, and the state will be paying only 38 percent during the current school year.

This growing disparity is facilitated by current law, which Abbott, Patrick and their legislative allies could change but have refused to do so. Instead, they prefer to hide behind it.

The law automatically reduces the state’s share of education funding as local property tax revenue increases. And property tax revenue continues to increase, driven primarily by rising property values. Even if local school boards haven’t raised property tax rates, tax bills in many school districts are increasing anyway because of the higher property values.

The issue is further compounded by the so-called Robin Hood law that requires property-wealthy districts to share revenue with poorer districts. That law, enacted in 1993, was designed to reduce inequities in educational opportunities among districts, but it has become outdated.

The severity of the funding imbalance was highlighted last week when the Texas Education Agency, in a preliminary budget presentation, estimated the state’s share of education funding could drop more than $3.5 billion during the next two-year budget period, primarily because of those rising property values.

That doesn’t have to happen. The governor, the lieutenant governor and the Legislature could change the law. But this governor, this lieutenant governor and a majority of recent Legislatures have refused to do so, and unless new state leaders are elected on Election Day, the law is likely to remain unchanged. And local property taxpayers are going to continue to be hammered.

If the state increased its share of education funding, local property values may continue to rise, but some local school boards could offer real property tax relief by reducing tax rates and overall tax bills.

Abbott and Patrick claim they want to provide property tax “relief,” but they don’t. All they have ever offered are arbitrary restraints to limit the ability of locally elected officials to adequately meet public needs.

They pass the buck for school funding to property taxpayers and the blame for property taxes to local governments. It’s a con game that can only be ended by retiring them and their allies on Election Day.

Vote Education First!



Voucher advocates fight back


As I warned yesterday, the voucher fight isn’t over, despite the good news that House Education Chairman Dan Huberty has announced his intent to scuttle the proposal. Voucher advocates are promising to double down on their efforts, and Republican right-wingers are trying to get their party leadership to censure Huberty, who is a Republican.

The Kingwood Tea Party in Huberty’s District 127 in Houston will try to convince the State Republican Executive Committee to pass a resolution censuring Huberty this weekend. Remember, the tea party wants to shrink government, beginning with public education, and is more interested in spreading its anti-government ideology than promoting what’s best for educators and school kids.

Also, according to the Texas Tribune article linked below, the main pro-voucher group plans to try to drum up pro-voucher sentiment against Huberty in his legislative district in hopes of pressuring him to change his mind.

Keep contacting your legislators against vouchers, and if you live in Huberty’s district (House 127 in the Houston area), tell him you support his stand. With three months remaining in the legislative session, the fight over vouchers is still very much alive.

If you don’t know who your state senator and state representative are, click on this link, enter your home address and click on Senate and House for district type. It will tell you who they are and how to contact them.



Education chairman’s opposition to vouchers is huge, but…


TSTA and other public education advocates were heartened, maybe even a little jubilant, at the news yesterday that House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty is planning to slam the door on private school vouchers.

We take Chairman Huberty at his word because we know there is a lot of opposition in the House – and in the Senate, for that matter – to vouchers, education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships or however you want to disguise the proposed raid on education tax dollars. But we urge educators to keep your guard up because the Legislature will be in session for another three months, Lt. Gov. Patrick and other voucher advocates are persistent and bad “accidents” can happen in the legislative process.

“I believe so, yes,” Huberty replied when Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith asked him in a public interview if the voucher legislation was dead for this session. Huberty explained that vouchers would reduce accountability for tax dollars and detract from more important education issues, such as fixing the school finance system.

Huberty’s stance doesn’t mean that Patrick won’t continue to break arms (at least figuratively) in the Senate to win that body’s approval of one of his longtime top priorities. He and his privatization allies also will try to increase pressure on Huberty and House members.

Huberty’s opposition to vouchers is huge, but as the Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey has pointed out: “Nothing is dead in the Texas Legislature while lawmakers are still in session. Resurrection is part of the game.” Voucher advocates could try to tack on their proposal as an amendment to another bill during floor debate, thus bypassing Huberty’s committee.

TSTA staffers and other front-liners at the Capitol will continue to treat voucher legislation as a live threat and send alerts if we detect any signs of voucher progress. Stay prepared to react by contacting your legislators.


School Security Act? Let’s wait for the details


I can say at least one positive thing about the proposed Texas School District Security Act that was outlined yesterday by three legislators, including Senate leaders Tommy Williams, a Republican, and John Whitmire, a Democrat.  The positive part is this. It would bolster the presence of licensed peace officers at school campuses instead of attempting to arm teachers, as Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was proposing a couple of weeks ago.

Although it is an improvement, this proposal, however, may not put an end to Dewhurst’s half-baked idea.

Since the actual legislation has yet to be drafted, there still are many unknowns about the proposed school security law. But I sense a couple of potential problems. The first is equity and fairness. The plan, as explained by the senators and State Rep. Dan Huberty, would allow voters in school districts to raise local property or sales taxes to pay for enhanced security.

That may make it easier for some wealthy districts to increase security for their students. But what about property poor districts, which for years have been struggling for more equity in school funding? Their students are no less worth protecting from potential danger, but the reality is those districts and parents may not be able to afford the greater tax burden. Maybe the sponsors can figure something out.

The second problem with this proposal is that it strongly signals that the legislative majority still is unwilling to increase the state’s commitment to public education funding, beginning with a restoration of the $5.4 billion cut from school district budgets two years ago. The new security plan would be paid for with local tax dollars, not state money.

Let me make clear that the legislative majority doesn’t include Sen. Whitmire, one of the proposed security act sponsors. Whitmire voted against the school cuts last year and has been a long-time advocate for public education and educators. But his co-sponsor, Sen. Williams, the new Senate Finance Committee chairman, voted for the cuts and now is sponsoring a proposed budget that would fail to restore the money.

“I know just how tight state and local budgets are these days,” Williams said.

Most local school district budgets are tight, thanks in large part to the cuts in state aid imposed in 2011. But the Legislature is sitting on an $8.8 billion surplus and a Rainy Day Fund balance of $11.8 billion. That is more than enough money to restore the education cuts and take care of other pressing state needs.

The only thing “tight” about the Legislature’s budgetary outlook is the unwillingness of the legislative majority to do the right thing for the education of Texas school children. The quality of that education will go a long way toward determining their future economic security.