The state’s war on public education hits home
Texas’ failure to adequately fund and support public education has been thrust in the spotlight with the plight of San Antonio’s North East Independent School District.
The second largest school district in San Antonio is losing students to charter schools, costing it millions in funding. Meanwhile, rising property values mean that in 2019, the district will pay the state millions of dollars under the so-called “Robin Hood” system.
This is when the state redistributes tax dollars from property-wealthy districts to property-poor districts.
In short, the district is losing state funding and slashing teaching positions to fill a budget shortfall just as it soon will share its property tax revenue to support other districts. And even after identifying millions in cuts, NEISD may have to raise taxes to help balance the books.
That’s a potential triple-whammy.
As Express-News reporter Lauren Caruba has outlined, NEISD is bracing for $12 million in spending cuts next school year as part of a two-year $29 million budget shortfall. It’s also expected to pay $7.7 million into the state system for the 2019-20 school year, and more than $33 million the next year.
The problem here is the state has done nothing to address its byzantine, antiquated, severely broken, but somehow constitutional, school finance system.
It’s been two years since the Texas Supreme Court found the state’s school finance system to be deeply flawed, yet constitutional. But that ruling wasn’t a free pass to do nothing. The Supreme Court urged lawmakers to fix the system:
“Texas’ more than 5 million schoolchildren deserve better than serial litigation over the increasingly Daedalean system. They deserve transformation, top-to-bottom reforms that amount to more than Band-Aid on top of Band-Aid. They deserve a revamped, nonsclerotic system fit for the 21st Century,” the court wrote.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas lawmakers have formed a commission to study the issue, which is laudable, but coming far too late. Lawmakers have frittered away precious time and resources debating which restrooms transgender people should use and how to cap property tax revenues for cities and counties.
The proof will be in the pudding for this commission. If increased funding and an end to wealthier school districts helping poorer districts pay for their children’s educations aren’t part of the solution, its recommendations will have fallen short.
As for this proposal to cap property tax revenues for city, counties and school districts, it is misguided. School districts raise taxes because of inadequate school funding from the state. Capping these without adequate state funding is tantamount to sentencing our children to inadequate educations. And, since schools are the largest share of local taxpayers bills, capping revenues for cities and counties will be punishing them for a problem not of their making.
How inadequately is the state funding schools? Its share of funding is projected to fall to 38 percent in 2019. Districts have no recourse but to turn to increasing property taxes.
And that’s exactly what may happen at NEISD, a well-run district. In addition to cutting 117 teaching positions, delaying expenses, freezing central office hiring and slashing other expenses, the district may have to consider a tax ratification election, Caruba reported.
Hundreds of such tax ratification elections have taken place since 2006 across the state, including in San Antonio Independent School District, Edgewood, Somerset, Southside, Harlandale and Alamo Heights.
South San Antonio and Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City districts are also considering tax ratification elections.
North East ISD isn’t alone in this quagmire. San Antonio Independent School District is facing a two-year, $31 million shortfall because it’s losing students to charter schools and suburban districts. Judson ISD is expecting a $13 million shortfall.
The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is attempting to craft recommendations to fix this broken system. But if the past is prologue, lawmakers won’t act, continuing a legacy of failing millions of Texas schoolchildren.