While top state officials are arguing during a summer legislative session about the best way to spend billions of dollars on property tax relief instead of additional school funding, teachers and school districts are preparing for the next school year, and it isn’t an easy task.
One thing the small but growing Terrell ISD, which has about 5,000 students east of Dallas, is doing is raising charitable contributions for classroom supplies for all nine of its campuses. This “Adopt a Classroom” program isn’t new. The district apparently does this every year. But the fundraising is particularly critical now, following the Legislature’s failure during its regular session to increase the basic allotment that determines how much state funding districts receive based on the number of students the district educates.
Remember, the Legislature began the regular session in January with a $33 billion budget surplus, but Gov. Greg Abbott and legislative leaders immediately decided to dedicate about half of it to pay for property tax relief. The Legislature then passed a new state budget that set aside $5.3 billion to pay for property tax cuts lawmakers approved two years ago and another $12.3 billion to pay for new cuts.
Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also tried to spend as much as a half billion dollars on private school vouchers, but that effort died in the House. Additional funding for public schools and pay raises also died after Patrick and the Senate held a school finance bill hostage to vouchers.
Now, a special session is in limbo because Patrick, on one side, and Abbott and Speaker Dade Phelan, on the other, disagree about the best way to provide the new tax cuts. Whatever they eventually may decide, none of the tax relief money will increase overall funding for school districts or school supplies or give educators pay raises.
Meanwhile, Terrell ISD is trying to raise $60,000 from parents and other people who, unlike some state leaders, value public education. The district wants to reach its goal by July 21 to leave time to distribute the proceeds in the form of gift cards to teachers before the tax-exempt August weekend for purchasing school supplies.
Other districts – but not all of them — may be doing the same thing because teachers across Texas often must dig into their own pockets to purchase supplies their under-funded districts can’t afford. According to a survey TSTA conducted of its members last year, the average Texas teacher was spending $846 a year on these teaching necessities, $108 more than just a few years earlier.
With about 320,000 teachers in Texas, these out-of-pocket expenses represent a $270 million subsidy that underpaid teachers essentially are giving to the state government, with the size of the subsidy continuing to increase as inflation continues to erode educators’ paychecks.
What are Abbott, Patrick, et al doing about it? Fiddling over tax relief and pretending to be concerned about the teacher shortage.