Superintendent's column: Inequities in school finance system must be addressed
By BY ROBERT JAKLICH
June 17, 2017 at 3:42 p.m.
Updated June 18, 2017 at 6 a.m.
Every two years, the Texas Legislature meets to provide funding for school districts to cover the cost of operations, personnel and educating students. With the conclusion of the 85th legislative session and a special legislative session called for July 18, we are now approaching a sense of urgency to address the multitude of school funding challenges that exist among our 1,000-plus Texas public school districts.
Public school district budgets are made up of the following criteria: tax collection rates, student enrollment, average daily attendance, the basic allotment (monies provided per student) and property values. Today's school finance system is built around a system which currently has funds being dispersed to school districts in an arbitrary fashion. This system has created vast inequities between school districts and is built on adjustments that are nearly 30 years old, with little reflection on current annual costs.
Financing public schools is a responsibility of the legislature, and the vast majority of that funding travels through the Foundation School Program. Each year, Texas experiences a growth of 80,000 students, and to date, this legislative session's budget shows that overall spending for public schools fell by $1.1 billion.
It is extremely important that you know how your tax dollars are being utilized when it comes to funding public schools. While rising property values benefit property owners in the long run, you may not realize that public school districts do not receive any additional operating revenue from local school taxes when property values increase. Since school districts are held to a certain level of funding per student, increasing property values allow the state to reduce the amount it sends to school districts to meet their required funding level. Basically, the state uses the "savings" it realizes from not sending money to school districts because of property value growth to reduce its own obligation to fund public education.
In this last biennium, the state "saved" approximately $4.25 billion from property value growth paid out as local school district taxes. During the years 2008-2017, the state reduced its contribution to fund public schools from 50 percent to 42 percent while the local tax payer share increased from 50 percent to 57 percent.
According to a report by Taxparency Texas, in comparing spending levels from 2008 to 2017, the state is providing about $339 less per student or $795 less per student when this amount is adjusted for enrollment growth and inflation. This is nearly a 20 percent decrease in support of our public schools.
June 6, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he is calling the legislature back into a special session on July 18. Special sessions cannot last longer than 30 days, however the governor does have the ability to call multiple special sessions, as was done in the years 2006 and 2013.
The first item on the governor's agenda is passing sunset legislation to allow the Texas Medical Board to continue to operate. The legislation to grant this authorization failed to pass in the regular session between the House and the Senate. The governor stated that after this sunset legislation passes, he is adding another 19 items to the agenda.
One legislative item that has the potential to affect public school districts is the creation of a commission on school funding that would be directed to study Texas' school finance system during the interim and make recommendations to the 86th Legislature.
In its latest ruling, the Texas Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that the power to effect change to the school finance system lies within the sole discretion of our state legislators. Our 5.3 million students enrolled in Texas public schools deserve a much more equitable education than is being funded today.
Our Constitution clearly defines the expectation to support an efficient system of free public schools that is substantially financed through state revenue sources. We are hopeful that our legislators will address the inequities found in our current school finance system and develop a funding formula that provides the same resources, for the same children at the same tax rate for every Texas school district. The future of the Victoria ISD, our Texas public school system and the great state of Texas depends on it.
Robert Jaklich is the superintendent for the Victoria Independent School District. Contact him at 361-788-9202 or through the VISD website, visd.com.