Commentary: Amendment would make Texas shoulder more school funding

Upon receiving their property tax notices, Texas homeowners seem ready to channel Peter Finch in the 1976 movie “Network” by throwing open their windows and yelling, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But at whom should that ire be directed?

Some wolves in sheep’s clothing at the Texas Capitol are pointing their fingers at your locally elected officials and pursuing legislation to tightly restrict cities. But don’t be fooled; it’s the wolves themselves who have driven up your property taxes.

POLL: Most voters blame state for school money woes, support bond.

School district taxes make up more than half of your property tax bill. As your property value grows, your resulting tax bill increases — and we’ve certainly seen a dramatic rise in property values throughout the state. However, instead of funneling those new dollars directly into the classroom or letting school boards give taxpayers a break, the state takes advantage of rising values by “allowing” homeowners to pay an ever-greater portion of public school funding. Meanwhile, the state budgets fewer state dollars for school districts and uses that windfall elsewhere. This cost-shifting scheme effectively decreases the state’s share of school district funding when your property value increases.

Although student population is projected to grow by more than 168,000 over the next biennium, the state actually will decrease its share of school district funding. Even more remarkably, when charter schools are removed from the equation, the state’s share of funding for local school districts—which educate 94 percent of Texas students — drops to 32 percent, leaving property taxpayers to pick up the rest.

At the same time, charter schools actually realize a gain of $1.4 billion. In other words, while the state is decreasing its share of school funding by almost $3 billion, your local property tax bills are increasing by almost $7 billion — though your schools are not seeing an increase in their funding. So where are those billions in your local taxes going?

They’re being used to cover population growth, provide new funding for charter schools and replace the $3 billion the state reduced to districts. No wonder the wolves are howling and pointing fingers; they’re hoping to distract you from the real reason behind your escalating taxes!

The Texas Education Code explicitly says that public education is to be “substantially financed through state revenue sources.” Most would agree that 32 percent is nowhere near substantial.

That’s why I’ve filed House Joint Resolution 18 in the current special session. My constitutional amendment would require the state to be an equal partner with local communities by providing at least 50 percent of the cost of educating Texas students. This is the only way to ensure that rising property values won’t continue to allow cost-shifting by the state. In fact, without the 50-percent requirement, since just 2010 the state’s shirking of its responsibility has pushed $28 billion of its share onto local property taxpayers.

Most Texans recognize that public education is vital to our state’s economic future as well as to our democracy. The lack of transparency in the state’s complicated funding formula prevents meaningful debate about how best to meet the needs of our students and our future, how much it should cost, and how we as Texans want to pay for it.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Viewpoints page brings the latest commentaries to your feed.

Current legislative proposals to address property tax reform distract us from meaningful fixes and do nothing to open a window on what’s really behind rising property taxes. If you want your lawmakers to address real solutions that focus on the largest portion of your property tax bills, ask them to debate and vote on HJR 18.

Real property tax reform requires real school finance reform. So go ahead and get mad — and if you don’t want to take it anymore, make sure you’re dealing with the actual culprits who created this funding shell game. Howl at the wolves in the Texas Legislature — and demand real solutions to real problems in this summer’s special session.

Howard, an Austin Democrat, represents District 48 in the Texas House. She is also a former Eanes ISD board member.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Letters to the editor: Jan. 20, 2018

It is appalling the disrespect being shown to President Trump. The left, liberals and Democrats have turned a blind eye to the corrupt leadership shown during the eight years of Obama and the Democrats. President Trump has done very well so far. It is very apparent that the Democratic party’s leadership does not want Trump to succeed and they...
Affordable credit is essential to a growing middle class
Affordable credit is essential to a growing middle class

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who represents deep southern Texas, understands what it means to live paycheck to paycheck. His parents were migrant workers who sometimes traveled from Laredo to Idaho for jobs. He also understands the value of hard work. With a master’s, J.D., and Ph.D., he’s “the most degreed member of Congress...
Commentary: Where will technology take the arts?
Commentary: Where will technology take the arts?

Every new technology changes how we find and experience art and entertainment, for better and worse. Today, as streaming becomes the dominant delivery mode for creative content, a new world of instant, global, direct connection between artists and their fans is at hand. The potential is glorious — ease of access, openness, a search for new content...
Herman: The Kiddie Acres carousel spins again
Herman: The Kiddie Acres carousel spins again

Back in July I told you that after about four decades and countless birthday parties, Joe and Marina Herring were retiring and closing their Kiddie Acres, a small North Austin amusement park that has a special place in the our town’s collective memory bank. I told you the rides were being auctioned. And in September, I told you that ...
Facebook comments: Jan. 19, 2018

As reported by the American-Statesman’s Jonathan Tilove, Gov. Greg Abbott has unveiled the centerpiece of his re-election campaign: His property tax reform plan. It would cap revenue increases for local taxing entities at 2.5 percent a year. “Under the plan I am announcing today, Texas will take action to limit property tax growth, secure...
More Stories