Tax and School Finance Reform — Help or Hindrance to the Dallas Schools?

Written by Patricia Hawke for Schools K-12

Securing enough funding for the Dallas schools is a problem experienced by many school districts in the United States. Most funding has become program specific, with government controlling its use and generally benefiting only a portion of the Dallas schools students. State funding has been scarce, requiring Dallas schools to rely upon local property and school taxes to cover the general needs of the schools. Additionally, federal government oversight creates a lot more administrative requirements. This means that many of the precious dollars the Dallas schools receive through government funding must be spent on administrative costs, rather than directly to benefit the students.

Recently, the Texas legislature passed new legislation for tax and school finance reform. Many are touting the law as especially good for Dallas schools. The law includes tax cuts to businesses, property tax cuts, strong taxpayer protections, and school funding and accountability improvements.

Here is how the new legislation affects the Dallas schools.

School Property Tax Control.  Previously, the Dallas schools, along with other schools in Texas, could raise the school property tax rate by six cents per $100 of property every year — without voter approval. With the new legislation, any raise of the school property tax rate of more than four cents must have local voter approval.  Additionally, the maximum school property tax was $1.50 per $100 of property. The new legislation will lower that maximum to $1.00 per $100 of property over the next two years.

More Accountability and Transparency.  The new legislation not only requires even more bureaucracy for the Dallas schools, but they are required to make it available on the Internet.  The Dallas schools will now be required to place detailed local school spending information on a web site for anyone to review. This new level of heavy oversight gives ammunition to anyone who wishes to get their name in the paper through official complaint to the legislators or even bogus court action. Some question whether this might lead to more costs to the Dallas schools to defend needed expenditures that benefit Dallas schools students, either directly or indirectly.

Teacher Compensation.  On the upside, the new legislation includes a $2,000 teacher pay raise, sorely needed by Dallas schools teachers. A $250 million state teacher performance pay plan is also included in the law, of which Dallas schools will receive its portion. The performance plan is to encourage teaching innovation and excellence.

Overall, the new legislation puts $1.7 billion dollars of new money into schools across the state, dramatically increasing the state’s share of public school funding. Though this new legislation does take a burden off the Dallas schools  property taxpayers by providing more state funding for general school expenditures, it does decrease the local dollars that do not carry the heavy price tag of red tape administration, as well as lowering the Dallas schools ability to raise funds locally.

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