School finance reform is critical this year — particularly for children in public school districts in Houston, Galveston and other communities forced to pay huge amounts of local tax dollars to Austin under the “Robin Hood” system.
Houston Independent School District expects to pay a whopping $312 million to the state in the 2019-20 school year. Over 30 cents of each dollar Galvestonians pay in local school property taxes is siphoned off to the state the same way. Communities cannot keep enough local tax dollars to educate children, and have no way to make up that loss. That’s how revolutions start. There’s no road left on which to further kick the can.
Taxpayers and educators are frustrated because we know how we got here: The state has been decreasing its share of the cost of education. Between 2008 and 2018, the state’s share of the cost of public education has fallen over 20 percent. As the state has backed away from its obligation, you, I and other local taxpayers have had to make up the difference by paying more in local property taxes.
When the system relies more heavily on property taxes, our Robin Hood payments increase. We understand all Texas children need a great education. Unfortunately, the current system robs Peter locally, to try to educate Paul elsewhere. This cannot continue, when so many of our local children face severe needs and challenges that we must meet.
You might think that higher taxes caused by higher property values in our communities would solve the problem. That’s not the case, because most of those dollars go to the state. As a result, we pay higher local taxes every year, but with no added benefit to our children. (If we lower our tax rate, the state punishes our children even more by further reducing their education funding.)
Going forward, school finance reform must resolve some difficult questions:
• How much money is required to engage and educate all students?
• What share of that total will be borne by local taxpayers?
• Where will the state’s share come from, and with what “strings?”
As the legislature goes about answering those questions, it’s important the final product include enough money to engage and educate all Texas children, and that it provide local financial flexibility to solve unique local problems.
Our mission is to arm and empower all Texas children to reach their full potential. As adults, they should be “pullers,” and not “riders,” adding their collective horsepower to the Texas economic engine that continues to power our nation and our world.
Fortunately, we now have reason for cautious optimism. Our voters spoke and made education funding their top priority. They demand results that will improve student academic outcomes and reduce the burden on our local taxpayers.
Our state leaders and lawmakers have been listening. They repeatedly voice the importance of school finance reform. Recent legislative proposals put significant new dollars into public education — another good sign.
That said, we must all be vigilant. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” Our children need more than short-term gimmicks designed to just get legislators through the next election cycle. We simply won’t tolerate a system that’s engineered to fail. Failure cannot be an option when our children and their futures are at stake.
Our vigilance, in turn, will help keep our lawmakers focused and on track. That’s why it’s important that all of us — parents, taxpayers, and educators — watch the legislature closely and continue to push for meaningful investments and reforms that the state will sustain well into the future.
We’re not just residents of a local community. We’re Texans. We believe in our children and in the future. If we all stay involved, pay attention to details, and demand real solutions, we will succeed — and so will our children.