I have written before about how the changes to the school finance funding formula enacted in the last special session have been received by the plaintiffs in the West Orange-Cove lawsuit. Their contention that the requirement of a referendum to raise school taxes beyond a certain level may wind up turning into another de facto unconstitutional statewide property tax is echoed in this Express News story.
A new provision requiring school tax elections could widen the gap between rich and poor schools, critics say.
"It's one of the worst things in this bill," said Austin-based school finance lawyer Buck Wood. "It's a disaster for education. Tax referendums tear school districts apart."
Wood and others envision voters in rich school districts - such as Alamo Heights in San Antonio, Eanes west of Austin and Highland Park in north Dallas - supporting school tax increases. That's because most of them are college educated, they value education and they are wealthy enough to afford tax increases to enhance their children's education.
But families in working-class districts who struggle to make it from week to week may be less inclined to vote themselves tax increases.
"The priority is not taxes to improve education, so it's going to be harder to talk voters into voting for increasing their taxes," said Guillermo Zavala Jr., superintendent of the property-poor Harlandale Independent School District.
The school funding bill is designed to cut school property taxes by as much as a third after two years. But districts will have limited opportunity to increase local property taxes.
"You have just given them relief from taxes, and now you want to come back and tax them again? I don't think that's going to happen," Zavala said.
The Alamo Heights Independent School District will be allowed to keep all revenue generated by the first 4-cent tax increase in the new enrichment plan. But it would have to send the state about $1 for every $2 it may raise from additional tax increases because Alamo Heights is a property-wealthy district and must share some of its property wealth.
Property-poor schools can tell their voters that every $1 of additional taxes would generate $2 total, because the state has to help equalize their taxing effort, said Jerry Christian, superintendent of the Alamo Heights ISD.
"I think that sell would be a little easier than to say, 'For every $2 that we're going to raise in this tax, we're only going to benefit a dollar,'" he said.
"I think on both sides, it's going to be difficult to raise taxes with a populace vote," he said.
That will be especially true for fast-growing districts such as San Antonio's Northside and North East districts, said school finance consultant Dan Casey of Austin-based Moak, Casey and Associates. "A number of school districts are very concerned about their ability to sell those tax-rate increases in the future for maintenance and operation," he said.
The Northside and North East school districts must frequently appeal to voters for bond issues to build new schools to accommodate growth.
"And then having to ask for money for operations, too, causes great concern," he said.