Statement Made at the June 6 School Board Meeting Regarding House Bill 21
Upon reflection on the 85th Texas legislative session, and as the President of the Plano ISD Board of Trustees, I want to make a few additional remarks regarding HB21. More than 600 school districts sued the State of Texas over its failure to fund public education in Texas, and the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the current system of funding public education is marginally constitutional and needs improvement from the Legislature. There was a great deal of anticipation and momentum about HB 21, initiated by the House of Representatives and authored by Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty. This bill was a step toward improving the state’s school funding system. The House of Representatives consistently supported a simple principle during the 85th Texas Legislature: local property taxes paid for public schools should be spent on public schools. That was the intent of the House of Representatives with HB 21.
For the first time in decades, the legislature had the chance to help mend Texas’ broken school finance system without being mandated to do so by the courts. Under the current financing system, the state’s reliance on its use of our local school property taxes for its own budget grows as the local property values increase. HB 21 would have curbed this practice, resulting in adding $1.9 billion to public schools. The House overwhelmingly supported HB 21 and passed it to the Senate. However, due to the Senate’s inclusion of private school vouchers in this proposal, this legislation never passed.
As has been the case in recent legislative sessions, the Senate continued its attempts to divert local school property taxes for other purposes, including non-educational purposes. The Senate amended HB 21 to the point of making the House proposal nearly unrecognizable. This plan would have resulted in the State’s actually spending less than 1/3 of all new school property taxes collected on public schools. Some people might call the Senate’s proposal a lack of transparency. And some people might call it hypocrisy. We call it a lack of “taxparency.” Our board and staff remain committed to the notion that the state and its taxing subdivisions have a duty to sincerely and openly communicate with its taxpayers where local Plano ISD property tax dollars are spent by the state, and the difference between local Plano ISD property tax dollars collected and those remaining in Plano ISD. In other words, our state owes its taxpayers taxparency, and this board pledges to continue its fight for this clarity.
If this state’s elected leaders are serious about property tax relief—and we certainly hope they are—then this effort must start with a complete reformation of the public education financing system. State leaders owe it to their constituents to ensure that the state spends local property tax dollars as intended and that new property tax dollars generated by growing property values are not used by the state for other purposes. HB 21 was a conservative government action, reflecting a responsible public education financing system focused on the future of Texas. The Texas Senate ended the hope of a step toward a proper solution by amending HB 21 with a “poison pill.” This amendment would have redirected public funds for Texas school children to for-profit, private ventures—a concept which had been rejected by the House earlier in the session. We thank the House for rejecting this amendment. Unfortunately, this resulted in the 85th legislature failing to pass any legislation toward meaningful school finance reform and, thus, any meaningful property tax relief for the citizens of Plano ISD.
As a board, we applaud Speaker of the House Joe Straus and the House Public Education Committee for their dedication and attempts to chart a new course for public education funding. Additionally, I would like to thank my colleagues on the board who have remained vigilant as the 85th legislative session played out.
Now that the regular session is complete we begin to look forward. Today, the Governor called a special session to start on July 18 on twenty items. Some of the items on his list include school finance, but not reforms that include any new money for schools. Instead, among other things, he directs the legislature to reprioritize how schools spend the money they already have in order to give teachers a $1,000 pay raise.
We are grateful that the Governor cares about teachers as much as we do. That is why on our May 16th agenda, this Board approved a $1642 pay raise for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and added $240 per year to its health insurance contribution for each participating employee.
We had hoped that the Governor would have used this special session opportunity to direct the Legislature to use the local property taxes collected by schools for the purpose of public education in education rather than using property tax value increases to reduce the state’s contribution to education so that it can meet other state obligations.
Additionally, the governor added private school vouchers for special needs students to the call for the special session. This would further divert local property tax dollars away from the public schools they are intended to support and give taxpayers even less transparency about how those dollars are spent. In Plano, such a program would increase the amount of recapture the district must pay to the state.
We want our community to be informed by honest communication to compete with the legislative rhetoric which too often is part of the public discourse regarding public education. Although the 85th legislative session has ended, our communication efforts will continue as we move through the upcoming special session and beyond. — Missy Bender, Plano ISD School Board President