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The school finance machinery starts grinding

Eye on Williamson has been doing a great job following all the school finance news. Check out this post on what the upcoming special session won’t fix, and this one on the first meeting of the Senate Select Committee on Education Reform & Public School Finance. As you can see from the following quote, the Senate is more on top of things than their House counterparts:

The House education committee has not scheduled meetings.

“We’ve spent almost … the last two years full time on this issue. There’s not a lot of new ideas,” said Arlington Republican Rep. Kent Grusendorf, who has led House education overhaul efforts. “What we need is to get a consensus and move forward, I think that’s possible.”

Inspiring, isn’t it? Maybe we’ll get lucky and Grusendorf will lose to whoever his primary challenger is. Doesn’t sound like that would make him any less motivated come April.

Meanwhile, at the meeting of that Senate committee, Texas Soliciter General Ted Cruz continues to remind everyone that cutting property taxes is not a fix for the problem.

“Lowering the cap is moving backwards,” said Cruz, referring to previous plans considered by the Legislature.

“What as a policy matter this body may deem attractive is not helpful legally for responding to this claim,” said Cruz. “All of the claims brought by the plaintiff school districts were at the end of the day about more money.”

Even if lawmakers enact new business taxes to pay for lower property taxes, school districts will need extra state revenue to meet a Texas Supreme Court requirement that they have “meaningful discretion” in their budgets and tax rates, he said.

This is exactly what the plaintiffs have been saying in the aftermath of the West Orange-Cove decision, too. Maybe this time it will sink in.

Cruz, who represented the state before the high court, outlined the tough choices as lawmakers face a June 1 deadline to write a new school finance law.

Other options would be to lower educational standards, raise the tax cap so districts can increase rates or ask voters to amend the Texas Constitution to allow a statewide property tax.

I’d love to see any House member advance the argument that what we need to do is lower costs by dumbing everything down. I have a feeling that we’ll need all of the comic relief we can get.

One wonders what Rick Perry will eventually advocate, now that the state’s lawyer is telling everyone that the much-derided tax swap schemes from last year are essentially out of the question. The idea of the Texas Tax Reform Commission is to build consensus for a business tax that actually taxes businesses, which can then be used as a better vehicle for school funding. What happens when one or more of Perry’s corporate sponsors rebels at the idea of being taxed? The only way this works is if everyone buys into the idea of sharing the burden equally, or at least equitably. Once you start letting this guy or that off the hook, everyone wants the same deal. I think Perry will have some unpleasant (for him) decisions to make.

Finally, via Dos Centavos comes this Carlos Guerra column, which explains why school districts that are within military bases in San Antonio do so well. Here’s one reason: They get more money to spend per pupil. Funny how that works.

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4 Comments

  1. Tim says:

    If the voters approve a state property tax to feed an ever-increasing, ever-hungrier black hole known as “education funding,” I hope they do it before we buy a second/vacation/retirement home in the state, because that would likely influence my decision to want to stay in the state.

  2. Chito says:

    Money is not the most important issue facing Texas school districts right now, student discipline is…especially in working class schools. Computers, new textbooks, etc. are all helpful, but if you don’t have a certain level of discipline in the classroom, no learning can take place. my friends that leave public school teaching aren’t leaving for higher paying jobs, they are leaving to go to private schools or because they can’t stand the kids behavior anymore.

  3. Locutor says:

    It’s called “demographics”, Tim.

    Increasing numbers of school-age children = ever greater need for school funding.

    You are correct, though, that this need not take the form of a statewide property tax. It could be a statewide business tax, or a statewide income tax.

    There isn’t much else that will generate the necessary revenue. This is what happens when you try to run the second largest state in the nation on a shoe string budget and an antiquated tax system.

  4. Tim says:

    There isn’t much else that will generate the necessary revenue. This is what happens when you try to run the second largest state in the nation on a shoe string budget and an antiquated tax system.

    You’re right about that.

    Assuming the state government insists that a state income tax is off the table, any property tax relief would come at the expense of very punitive and extreme tax hikes elsewhere. You just can’t cut property taxes by (say) 0.5% and make it all up with a sales tax or business tax increase without making them some of the highest in the nation.