Superintendent's column: Equitable school funding solution is crucial
By BY ROBERT JAKLICH
Feb. 10, 2018 at 3:57 p.m.
Updated Feb. 11, 2018 at 1 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. As the Texas Legislature concluded the 85th legislative session this past June, there was still no change in the existing school finance system to fund Texas public schools. House Bill 21 required the legislature to establish the Texas Commission on Public School Finance to develop and make recommendations to the current public school finance system or create a new method of funding for Texas public schools.
We are now approaching a sense of urgency to address the multitude of school funding challenges that currently 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 that disperses funds to school districts in an arbitrary fashion. This system has created vast inequities between school districts and is built on adjustments that are about 30 years old, with little reflection of current annual costs.
For example, the transportation allotment provides assistance to public school districts that provide student transportation. This allotment is based on a set rate per mile. In the Victoria school district, we travel 4,558 miles per day delivering our students to and from school across our "612 Square Miles of Excellence." Unfortunately, the transportation allotment has not been updated in more than 34 years since its inception in 1984. Furthermore, the Cost of Education Index (CEI), which is the cost the state assigns to each school district to determine how much it receives to educate the students and pay the teachers, has not been addressed in more than 27 years since it was put into effect in 1991.
It is also 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" about $4.25 billion from property value growth paid out as local school district taxes. From 2008 to 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.
In VISD, we believe proper funding and equity are essential to the fair treatment of Texas taxpayers and Texas public school children and any new school finance legislation should address the following elements; otherwise, it isn't really fixing anything for the children and taxpayers of Texas.
First, the total amount of funding a school district receives would be determined by the local tax effort. Every school district must be guaranteed access to identical resources, given the same student makeup and the same tax effort.
Secondly, we should maintain a single-tier funding system that includes identical funding levels for each penny of tax effort. Therefore, whatever use of local property tax is allowed, each penny of effort would produce the same level of funding per weighted student. It is extremely important to note that these elements must serve as the bedrock of any new school finance legislation. Otherwise, we will not efficiently or effectively fix our current funding system.
In its last ruling, the Texas Supreme Court made it abundantly clear the power to effect change to the current school finance system lies within the sole discretion of our state legislators. Our constitution clearly defines the expectation to support an efficient system of free public schools that is substantially financed through state revenue sources. As champions for public education, we must continue to inform our community of this important message and work with our legislators to develop an equitable solution for public school funding. 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.