When the Texas Legislature reduces appropriations to school districts, each dollar we pay in higher local school property taxes counts for less.
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance should review how drastically reduced state funding for school districts creates pass-through property tax hikes whose value benefits the state budget rather than 5 million children in Texas school districts.
Our property values grow in Texas because our economy is booming. As market forces cause property values per student to rise, state aid declines for school districts. When the Texas Legislature doesn’t maintain state aid, we pay higher local property taxes to yield the same amount of money to school districts, even as student enrollments, needs, and expectations rise.
You may think the value of increased school district taxes goes to your local school district or, in “Robin Hood” districts, is shared with less-property-wealthy districts. Instead, your higher local taxes are worth less when they supplant state funds.
School district state aid appropriations declined $2.68 billion for this school year and next school year from levels in the prior two years. That’s a $2.68 billion hole in Foundation School Program funds for school districts, averaging $10,455 per 30-student classroom over two years in higher local property taxes.
On top of the $2.68 billion pass-through, our local school taxes pay for the largest enrollment growth in the nation. One out of ten babies in the United States are born in Texas, and our schools are projected to grow by 512,500 by 2026 (like adding the entire student population of Iowa).
Student needs are growing too. More children are being served in special education after the state removed its 8.5 percent limit. Texas schools educate more than 1 million English language learners and 3.1 million economically disadvantaged children. Texas also has high numbers of children experiencing toxic adversities and trauma that make student learning more difficult.
Local property taxes cover the state-cut gap, enrollment growth, learning needs, inflation, higher academic expectations, and new state mandates. To help districts keep up with these costs and allow school boards to cut tax rates, the House overwhelmingly passed school finance plans to largely restore state aid; the Senate did not.
With billions less in state money to pay teachers and run schools, Texans will pay higher school property taxes for essentially flat or inflation-devalued district funding. The net value, instead, funds the state budget and state charter schools.
The Legislature likely didn’t know the decline’s severity. The appropriations bill bundles Foundation School Program state aid for both school districts and charter schools, masking the impact on districts and property taxes. It would be helpful for the school finance commission and Legislature to improve transparency and to ensure the system does not impose an unconstitutional statewide property tax.
Taxpayers expect the full value of school districts’ operations taxes will benefit school districts’ operations. Taxpayers and parents alike should demand the Legislature stop diverting state aid and devaluing local property taxes at the expense of 5 million children in Texas school districts.
Ellen Williams is a public school mom, attorney, and registered lobbyist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect views of clients. Twitter: @eclairetexas