After years of unsuccessfully arguing for changes to the way Texas funds public education, some local school leaders say they’re optimistic about the next legislative session after the governor’s office recently released a list of possible solutions.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office in October unveiled a slide show that offers several ideas for approaching school finance reform, including a proposal to cap the amount districts can collect in taxes for maintenance and operations at 2.5 percent.
While confirming the document came from the governor’s office, state officials emphasized they hadn’t yet made any final recommendations.
“The governor and his team continue to work with the commission and various stakeholders to solicit ideas on ways to improve education in Texas,” said Ciara Matthews, deputy communications director in the governor’s office.
But for local education leaders, the possibility of state leaders addressing school finance is welcome news.
“It is our hope the issue of how to appropriately fund public schools is resolved in the next session,” said Elaina Polsen, spokeswoman for Clear Creek Independent School District. “Right now, CCISD taxpayers fund 70 percent of the district’s budget and the state contributes 30 percent and that percentage has been shrinking every year.”
More and more school boards across Galveston County are forced to adopt deficit budgets as they struggle with myriad issues. Those include increasingly large payments to the state as part of the so-called Robin Hood funding program, which “recaptures” local property tax revenue and sends it to other districts.
Abbott’s plan to cap revenue would, in theory, stop districts’ recapture payments from steadily increasing, said Kelli Moulton, superintendent of Galveston Independent School District.
Moulton also was recently named president of the Texas School Coalition, which is an organization of property rich school districts trying to mitigate recapture payments, she said.
“Galveston sends more than 33 percent of our maintenance and operations property tax collection back to Austin,” Moulton said. “As we continue to increase in property wealth without an increase in student enrollment, the rate of recapture will continue to grow.”
Abbott’s slide show proposes using state revenues to make sure districts don’t lose funding because of the revenue cap, records show.
The proposal does not specifically say where that funding would come from.
That would, in theory, help the situation, but state legislators must figure out where that additional funding would come from, Polsen said.
Moulton will work over the coming months to discuss the issues with similarly-positioned school districts ahead of the next legislative session, she said.