school finance

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.

 

 

 

Who pays a bigger price for public service? Judges or teachers?

 

Texas teachers, it is time to cue in some sad music for Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, who is complaining that he is underpaid. “Public service…should not be public servitude,” he told a legislative committee, according to an item in Quorum Report.

Pay for Texas Supreme Court members, after all, ranks only 29th among justices on the highest state courts around the country, the same national ranking as average teacher pay in Texas.

Before anyone gets carried away with that comparison, though, please know that Hecht’s annual salary is about $168,000, according to the National Center for State Courts. It may even be a little more because he is chief justice. That is more than three times the average teacher pay in Texas of $53,167.

Hecht is seeking raises for all state judges, but even state district court judges, the main trial judges in Texas, make about $149,000 a year. Servitude, indeed.

Hecht may feel underpaid compared to many lawyers in the private sector, but I doubt that the chief justice or any of his robed colleagues are spending their weekends tutoring students, waiting tables or taking the assortment of other extra jobs that about 40 percent of Texas teachers are taking during this school year to make ends meet for their families.

Sure, judges have very important responsibilities, but they are no less crucial than the work that teachers perform every day. Without the educational services that teachers provide, we, of course, wouldn’t have judges, lawyers, doctors, dentists, scientists, CEOs, etc. etc.—or not very good ones anyway.

Texas legislators need to pay teachers more and provide more classroom resources for their students before they start raising judges’ pay. One reason the legislative majority continues to under-pay teachers and under-fund public education is because the Texas Supreme Court, under Hecht, refused to strike down our lousy school finance system a couple of years ago and force the Legislature to improve it.

The justices admitted the funding system was awful, but they let the Legislature off the hook, and teachers and their students are still paying the consequences.

Still want to play some sad music for Chief Justice Hecht? I didn’t think so.

 

 

 

Sen. Don Huffines fears educators, not immigrants

 

Voter registration is up, and state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, who has made a political career of attacking public schools and promoting privatization, is worried. He is worried because he knows he has done nothing to generate that much enthusiasm for his re-election, and he has a pro-public education opponent, Nathan Johnson, who is running a very strong campaign against him.

So what does Huffines do? He doesn’t have a legitimate campaign issue. So he borrows a tactic from Donald Trump and lies. He lies about a horde of imaginary undocumented immigrants who have descended upon Dallas and registered to vote. And he calls on a Senate committee to conduct an emergency hearing to help him out by lending a stamp of “authenticity” to his charade.

According to an article on Quorum Report, Huffines said he had heard of “allegations of illegal voting by non-citizens and officials’ failure to adequately respond.”

Baloney.

Undocumented immigrants don’t come to the United States to vote. They come here for economic opportunity or to escape political persecution or crime in their home countries. They want to avoid detection, and trying to vote is a sure-fire way to get caught.

But it is easier for Huffines to promote hysteria and hate against immigrants than it is to defend his own record in the state Senate. Educators should be reminded that it is a record that includes:

# Killing a $1.9 billion increase in public school funding during a special session last year.

# Voting for every private school voucher bill that has come his way.

# Supporting the so-called “bathroom bill” that would have discriminated against vulnerable children in public schools and encouraged bullying.

# Voting for public education budgets that have steadily transferred the lion’s share of school funding to local property taxpayers.

Don Huffines purports to represent state Senate District 16 in Dallas. In truth, he represents an extreme political ideology.

Educators, parents and taxpayers in District 16 who truly care about public schools have a clear choice in this election – Nathan Johnson, an education advocate, school volunteer and community leader. Nathan has been endorsed by TSTA-PAC and, unlike Huffines, isn’t afraid of people voting in large numbers.

 

 

 

Want to lower your property taxes? Don’t vote for Abbott or Patrick

 

Some political promises are predictable…and worthless. Gov. Greg Abbott’s vow, during last weekend’s debate, to provide “relief” for property taxpayers was predictable. It was just as predictable as the fact that he won’t provide a cent of real relief if he is reelected to another term.

Lupe Valdez, the governor’s Democratic opponent, correctly pointed out during the debate that you can’t address the problem of high property taxes without increasing state funding for public schools, which Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their legislative allies repeatedly have refused to do. And if they are reelected in November, they will continue to profess concern for high property taxes while continuing to under-fund public education.

Texas schools have two main sources of funding – state revenue and local property taxes – and, as I have noted before, the state’s share has been steadily declining under Abbott’s watch. The state’s share of the Foundation School Program is expected to hit a low of 38 percent during this school year, with local property taxpayers paying 62 percent.

If the governor really wanted to provide relief to local taxpayers, he would have demanded that the Legislature increase its share of education funding, but he never has. Just last year, he joined with Patrick to slam the door on a bill approved by the Texas House that would have increased state education funding by $1.9 billion during the current budget period.

Instead, Abbott and Patrick support a phony form of tax “relief” that would put arbitrary restrictions on the ability of local elected officials, including city councils, to raise the revenue their constituents need for essential public services. Those efforts so far have failed, but they will continue if Abbott and Patrick are reelected. Both will continue to pretend to hate the high property taxes that they love to see you have to pay.