Texas Can No Longer Rely on Local Property Taxes to Fund Public Education, By Caroline Sabin and Janet Harman
In 2011 the Texas Legislature reduced funding for public education by $5.3 billion – the largest blow ever suffered by our schools. As a result, requests for the limited resources of our family foundations grew as public-private partnerships and local community initiatives in our communities struggled to fill the gaps. Knowing that we would be unable to meet the growing demand, we joined with other philanthropists and grantmakers from across the state to form the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC). Together we have worked to expand and improve educational opportunities for all Texas children through smart state public education policies.
One thing philanthropy cannot do is make up for ongoing state cuts to public education. Over the past six years, Texas has failed to restore its investment in public education even to 2011 levels. In fact, the state’s share of total state/local funding will have declined from 46 percent in 2012 to 38 percent by 2019 while not even taking into account that the student population in Texas increases by more than 80,000 students every year.
This decline has forced schools to increasingly rely on local property taxes. The state estimates that school property tax collections will grow by 47 percent between 2012 and 2019. However, local schools are not benefiting from this growth in local tax revenue. What many parents and teachers do not realize is that the current finance system allows the state to use the growth in local property taxes to reduce state aid to education and use the money instead for other expenses in the state budget.
While there is no doubt that reforming school finance is a much-needed and daunting task, Texas is actually starting with a strong foundation. In fact, our state has historically been a national leader in school finance design, and our system contains many innovative elements that we should preserve and build upon. However, that system is now outdated, overly complex, and inefficient. Many of the key elements of the formulas are over 30 years old, and the system is no longer responsive to changing student needs, evolving demands for accountability, or rising costs.
As an immediate step toward improving school finance, the 39 members of the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium call on the Texas Legislature to stop diverting education dollars to other purposes. Schools – not the state budget -- should benefit from rising property taxes. We also encourage the Texas Legislature to partner with stakeholder groups such as ours to create new bi-partisan forums to hold open policy discussions and find innovative solutions.
Making lasting improvements to school finance will require the Texas Legislature to come together with the business, education, and philanthropic communities to develop a school finance system based on necessary costs that is funded equally through state and local resources. Texas philanthropy stands ready to help support that process in order to ensure our children's future.