Tuesday, January 17, 2006

School Finance/TTRC Update

As the TTRC heads to Belton and Waco tomorrow it's becoming clear the options for them and the legislature are narrowing fast. While it's all systems go to lower property taxes they must be lowered in the correct manner. They can't just say we lower the cap from $1.50 to $1.00 and offset that with a raise of some other tax. That will leave most school districts having to tax at the new maximum rate ($1.00) and that's why the property was deemed illegal in the first place. They have to lower the tax and then give school districts enough room under that cap to set their own tax rate.

With that said it appears that many, contrary to what Speaker Craddick said last week, believe that Texas schools need more money. Here is what the Speaker said last week:

At the Texas Public Policy Foundation's event, House Speaker Tom Craddick said that any tax bill for public school must be "revenue neutral" to pass the Texas House, meaning any money raised through new taxes should be offset by cuts in existing taxes.

Craddick also stressed that many lawmakers want to address changes in education policy as well as offset property taxes with state levies.

"Just dumping more money into the program is not what we should do," Craddick said.

The Midland Republican complained that since 1997, school spending has increased four times as fast as enrollment and that not enough money is getting to the classroom. He said many House members want more transparency and accountability on school spending; a teacher pay raise tied to performance; and greater involvement of taxpayers and parents, particularly moving school elections to November.

He also warned that the Legislature might face a budget deficit at the beginning of the 2007 regular session. He offered no details.

This column rebuts what the Speaker said. It refers to the Republican plans of the recent past as "watery soup" and "gruel", and brings us back to reality about what our current state leadership's - "chefs" as he calls them - plan really is:
Also, seeing a new window of opportunity, the chefs again are touting a host of school "reforms" in which they would impose things that would further diminish the already weak broth now sustaining our public school system.

One would be school vouchers.
Governor Perry, any thoughts on vouchers?
As for taxpayer-funded vouchers to allow certain students to attend private school, Perry said, "I don't know whether that would be in the special session or not. Most likely that's in '07."
Perry goes on to make some truly remarkable statements about vouchers and the divide between rich and poor:
Perry spoke to reporters while appearing with Ben Bentzin, a GOP candidate for a special election today to fill a Texas House vacancy in an Austin district that includes a big part of the property-wealthy Eanes Independent School District.

Perry called the idea of a pilot voucher program a "red herring" in the race because "every voucher program that we've talked about has been for inner-city youth and for those types of schools where they're failing the children."

"The last time I looked around at Eanes ISD, there aren't any failing schools," Perry said.

Asked why vouchers are a bad idea for Eanes and good for inner-city schools, Perry said he is looking for alternatives for kids who are "forced to go to schools that are failing them."

"I just can't look 'em in the face and tell them that on the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday, who understood that truly one of the great equalizers, the great emancipation issues of our day, is education," Perry added.
What he's saying is that the representatives in the rich districts will vote for vouchers for the poor districts but vouchers won't effect the rich districts. In other words Bentzin and people like him need to be elected because they can be trusted to do what is best (vouchers) for the poor school districts.

Another good read is this editorial from the Chronicle, Will the Texas Legislature finally see the light on public education funding this spring? I have to point out one problem I have with the editorial, this paragraph:
Barring the adoption of a state income tax, an option that enjoys little popular support, Sharp's outline is the only constitutional route toward relieving onerous property taxes and adequately funding the schools.
The paragraph starts out OK but the latest polling on a state income tax shows the public being evenly divided on one:
The poll shows that Texans are almost equally divided over whether a state income tax should be levied to pay for public schools.

Forty-five percent said they would support an income tax if it reduced property taxes and the revenue funded public schools. Forty-seven percent said that they oppose an income tax.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, an El Paso Democrat who argues that an income tax would be the fairest way to collect money for the state, said such a tax might not be as unpopular as many politicians seem to believe.

"If people knew that school property taxes go down 90 percent, I expect that the 45 percent vote goes to 65," Shapleigh said. "If they knew both the income and property tax rates are then capped, then the vote goes higher."
That is one of my pet peeves when a state income tax is discussed. The misinformation and lack of knowledge most people, the media especially, have about a state income tax and how it would work. It's most the state leadership and the media in Texas' unwillingness to discuss it in a sane and logical manner because they believe the people don't want it, which is no true.

And, finally, has the school finance problem gotten so bad that Teachers may be feeling nostalgic for Gov. White?

It's more of the same. The Republican "chefs" trying to feed the masses a watery gruel to entice them to accept vouchers as a panacea to a better education for their children. No thanks.

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