Texas has over 1,000 public school districts ranging in size from the gigantic Houston Independent School District to the tiny Divide Independent School District in rural south Texas. Many of these districts cross city and county jurisdictional boundaries. All of them have the power to tax their residents within district boundaries and to assert eminent domain over privately owned property. In addition, Texas has deemed an increasing number of these school districts as property-wealthy, requiring them to give up a share of their local tax dollars to help buoy poorer districts throughout the state. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) oversees these public schools districts as well as charter schools operating within the state. The TEA provides supplemental funding to schools, but its jurisdiction is limited mostly to intervening in poorly performing districts. There are also 50 community college districts as well as 36 separate and distinct public universities in Texas, of which 32 belong to one of the six state university systems.
(1) School finance
The Problem: School programs and resources are dependent on the dollars they get from the state but Texas has consistently reduced the amount of money it contributes to public education. The result is underfunded schools and ever increasing local property taxes to make up the shortfall.
The Solution: According to the Houston Chronicle, “Texas' franchise tax is the worst business tax in the nation. Companies have to keep a special set of books because the tax is like no other. Accountants have to run the numbers four ways to determine how much is owed. Losing money doesn't mean you don't have to write a check. Lawmakers have carved out special exemptions for the state's most powerful industries. And the tax has never generated as much revenue as the state needed from it. Even more frustrating, lawmakers have raised the tax's exemption so high that only 124,000 companies have to pay it.
Tom supports scrapping the Franchise Tax and replacing it with a Business Income Tax. A business Income Tax will generate roughly 3 times as much revenue for the state, which mean 3 times as much money could be used to support our schools.
(2) School Calendar
The Problem: The school start date has been a battle for years between school districts and the state’s tourism industry. The districts want more control over when they start classes and more days in the fall semester. The industry wants summer vacation extended as long as possible.
The Solution: Political decisions, like setting school calendars, should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority. Known as subsidiarity, the idea is that a central authority, like the state of Texas, should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. Tom supports letting local school districts decided what works best for them as far as scheduling school start and end dates.
(3) School Choice
The Problem: Gov. Abbott supports taking public taxpayer money out of the public schools and putting it into charter schools who have no accountability.
The Solution: No taxpayer money for charter schools.
(4) Community College Tuition
The Problem: According to Bruce Baker and Jesse Levin in a October 23, 2017 article written for the Century Foundation, “Community colleges in the United States play a critical role in promoting social mobility. This is especially the case for first-generation college students, as well as for non-traditional students and career-transitioning adults. Yet, access to equitable, high-quality two-year public colleges remains largely dependent on state- and county-level resources and economic contexts. Individuals have vastly different abilities to pay to advance their education and training, and as things stand, those with the fewest personal resources may be the ones who accrue the greatest benefit from a community college education. Furthermore, community colleges serving those with the greatest needs are likely to be situated in counties and states with the least fiscal capacity to support high-quality programs and services.”
The Solution: Texas has the 2nd largest economy in the country and ranks as the 10th largest in the world. In order to maintain Texas top tier position, Tom supports tuition-free community college education.