Abbott getting there on school funding
Gov. Greg Abbott is still pushing a bad idea to limit local spending on schools in the name of property tax relief, but at least he now supports a plan to get more state money to struggling school districts. If the Legislature rejects the first part of his proposal and supports the second, public school districts might finally have the money they need to educate their students better or, in some cases, at least adequately.
The encouraging part of Abbott’s proposal this week was shifting $3 billion in oil and gas revenues to local school districts to make up for the money he wants to remove from local budgets. That $3 billion would be welcomed by local school districts, which have seen their share of state aid steadily decline in recent years.
But that is the fundamental problem with calls by Abbott and some other state officials to limit the amount of money public school districts can raise from their taxpayers. State aid used to represent about 50 percent of local school budgets, but it has declined to less than 40 percent.
When shortages like that occur, local school districts often have no alternative but to increase property tax rates to bring in enough money for their teachers and students. That process can increase property tax rates to unpleasant levels, but at least it is controlled by local taxpayers. They can vote down any bond issue put before them, and they can replace the trustees on their local school board if they think they are raising tax rates too much from year to year.
If Abbott and legislators can increase state aid to public school districts — ideally up to the 50 percent level of the recent past — local tax rates could stabilize or decline. But if the Legislature caps local property tax increases to 2.5 percent per year as Abbott has proposed and doesn’t provide any more state aid, school districts could be squeezed. They might not have the money they need, which means teacher layoffs or fewer courses — at a time when most of them are seeing increased enrollment. That’s just not logical.
Lawmakers should focus on providing as much state aid for public education as possible without getting involved in local tax rates. The state economy is booming, and the Rainy Day Fund is up to $12.5 billion. The solution to the school funding crisis lies in Austin, not the state’s 1,031 public school districts.