Comptroller Susan Combs says it is important that she remind Texas taxpayers how their money is being spent. So she has spent some more of it to issue a new report, “Your Money and the Taxing Facts,” which you can find on her office’s website. It is interesting that the report is getting attention at the same time that some legislators are getting ready to launch a campaign to grab a big chunk of your money and give it to private school profiteers.
Combs didn’t intend her report to serve as a warning against private school vouchers, which the Senate Education Committee, at the urging of Sen. Dan Patrick, will discuss in a public hearing tomorrow. For all I know, she may support vouchers, since she has supported other bad ideas for public schools and school children, including larger class sizes and a $25-million-a-year state subsidy for wealthy investors in a high-dollar auto race in Austin. She approved the subsidy as the governor and the legislative majority were whacking $5.4 billion from public education.
Combs’ primary interest in issuing the report is to tell taxpayers who she is. She is dreaming of a lieutenant governor’s race a couple of years from now, and since she isn’t a household name, not even among Republican voters, she is using every opportunity to milk exposure from her taxpayer-funded office through official reports, town hall meetings, etc.
Her report, nevertheless, serves as a stark reminder of how state government has been shortchanging a host of important public services, including the public schools, for a long time. She quantifies the proof, more than she may have intended, by reporting that local property taxes across Texas increased 188 percent between 1992 and 2010, significantly outpacing population growth and inflation. Local taxes have risen dramatically because the state has required more of school districts and other local governments while not keeping pace with state aid.
Some $40.28 billion in property taxes was collected by all local governments in Texas in 2010, according to the report. More than half that amount, $21.56 billion, was collected by school districts. These figures were calculated before last year’s huge budget cuts put even more pressure on local property owners.
But, now, along comes Sen. Patrick and others ready to dust off an old, bad idea – private school vouchers. The timing couldn’t be worse. It makes absolutely no sense to divert tax dollars into the pockets of private school owners at any time, but especially while public schools are still wrestling with last year’s cuts. Some 25,000 public school employees, including almost 11,000 teachers, lost jobs last year, and thousands of children were forced into overcrowded classrooms. This year, some districts are closing neighborhood schools.
Voucher proponents call their proposal a “choice” program, but it simply is not.
“These so-called ‘choice’ programs offer no real choice for the overwhelmingly majority of students,” TSTA President Rita Haecker said in a statement released to the media today. “Voucher plans benefit only a few students while enriching profiteers at the expense of public schools that have been shortchanged by the same politicians who want to divert tax dollars to private schools.”
Haecker added: “All these voucher schemes to the contrary, the vast majority of Texas children will continue to be educated in traditional public schools, and that is where our tax dollars need to be invested.”
Educators and other supporters of public schools are in for a tough fight. So buckle up!