Monday, April 10, 2017

RISD Candidates on School Funding

I asked the candidates for Richardson ISD Board of Trustees their opinions on a range of subjects. To limit bias on my part, I did not phrase the subjects in the form of questions. I invited the candidates to focus on whatever aspect of the subject they think is most important for RISD voters to consider when casting a ballot on May 6. My desire is to publish the candidates' opinions in their own words, so I will post their responses, unedited and without any accompanying editorial comment.

For readability, I've collated the responses by subject and will post the subjects separately. The topic of this post is "School Funding."

Place 3
  • Joseph Armstrong:
    School funding, to me, is one of the greatest areas of responsibility for a Trustee. By that, I am not saying that money should be the most important focus for the board. Just that, if not managed properly and with intentionality, it can be the driver of all other things. This is true of any large-scale organization. For me, it is key to do a few things in an effort to be responsible. One, we must make sure our budget is aligned with our goals. We can say we want to be a place where all students learn, grow and succeed, but if our budget allocation doesn’t match that, our words are for naught. This must come with the understanding that the budget is finite, and when we give to something we are taking from something else. We must be diligent and, again, intentional, in our budget process. Second, outside of fiscal responsibility within, and the funding allocation handed down by the state, the Board’s job is to carefully consider the tax rate as it applies to property owners within the district. The district currently sits in a position where our next 2 cents of tax effort gain us more funding than previous cents. Obviously, tax rate increases are something that would have to be discussed in clear, transparent ways with the community, especially following a recent bond. But that does not mean we shouldn’t have those discussions. Again, I think this comes AFTER making sure we are spending the money we already receive in a responsible way. I hope with my day to day dealings with the cashflow and budgets associated with a multi-million dollar company, that I can bring benefit to the Board in this area.

  • Karen Clardy:
    The lack of State funding for Public Schools has been a continuing problem which not only affects classroom instruction and resources it also directly affects our property taxes. State funding only provides 37% of our school revenue and 63% of the revenue is local. This is not acceptable. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the state to help fund our schools and it is important as board members to stay vigilant with our legislators to increase public school funding so we do not have to look elsewhere to help fund our schools. However, there is some good news. House Bill 21 which will add an extra $1.6 billon into the state education system is now eligible to be considered by the full house. This is a great start but unfortunately it is just a band aid, this won’t put a dent in public school funding problem especially if the voucher program is passed.

  • Eric Eager:
    The current school funding system is broken. In the mid-1990s, the Robin Hood program was enacted with good intentions to help ease the vast school funding differences between rich and poor school districts. The plan was funded on a formula based on local property taxes and whether your school district was designated as a high property-wealthy district.
    The Robin Hood program started out small, with only 34 of the state’s 1,207 school districts contributing to the program. The challenge is that with today’s skyrocketing property values across the state, 257 school systems are now required to contribute to the fund. While having more funds available to all school systems is not a bad thing, the problem is the state has used it as a way to reduce the amount the state spends on public education every year.
    In 2008, local property tax revenue and state funding was split 50-50. Today, the amount local property tax payers are contributing, including Robin Hood payments, has increases by 44%. The amount of state revenue spent on public schools has increased by only 7 percent over the same time period.

    Source: Legislative Budget Board Fiscal Size Up
    Credit: Annie Daniel

    I believe that we should be as effective as we can on where we spend our tax money but it is becoming increasing difficulty to provide a quality education with such limited funds. Texas is now ranked 43 in the US in education spending and we are beginning to max out the amount of the burden on local tax payers. In essence we have created a shell game of shuffling funds between school districts while the state reduces the amount it contributes. We need to contact our law makers in Austin to get them to focus on having the State make education a priority again.

  • Ben Prado:
    The current political climate around the country has many folks worried about school funding. It is important that we remain informed about where our local schools get their funding from. Our school district, RISD, is proud to be able to say that our operating costs are over 50% self-funded by the hard working men and women, our tax payers, that live within our district. The next big chunk of funding is derived from state. Only around 1% of our funding is allocated to us from the federal government. We can also happily and proudly say that our expenses have stayed below our income year after year while our local property taxes have decreased since 2002. Simply put: financially, we are making every cent worth its value. The majority of our expenses are put toward instruction, we service our debts and bonds at an incredibly healthy pace, and we constantly pass state and local indicators of our financial strength. So how does this affect my campaign and our district? Simply put: demographics are changing at incredible speeds and decisions at the federal level can have imediate impacts on our local economy and schools within days. Good fiduciary practice should be one of our top priorities while proactively investing in programs and students that need the most attention. The tax rate does not need to increase. There should be no need for talk of increasing property taxes. We have enough funding to accomplish everything we set out to do... we just need to actually get it done.

Place 6
  • Justin Bono (incumbent):
    There are some base fundamentals important to understand about school funding:
    • The Legislature sets a basic allotment number each biennium that all funding revolves around. That current basic allotment is $5,140/student.
    • As local property values increase, the State contributes less toward school funding putting more of the share on local districts. Given that the amount school districts receive is fixed based on that $5,140/student amount, the State reduces their share so that districts end up with the same amount per student. As such, districts do not get ongoing benefit from increased property values.
    • There are weights that increase this basic allotment for each school district for items such as students in special education, economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, etc. However, these weights haven’t been updated since the 1990s. As an example, the State funding formula would say that an English language learner (perhaps a refugee student from the Congo) is only 10% more expensive to educate than a student with no weights by providing a 0.1 adjustment ($514).

    As a result of increased property values, the State of Texas contributes less per student to public school funding than they did in 2008. The recession resulted in severe declines in State funding and they State has yet to restore the level of funding that they had in 2008. Furthermore, the State’s contribution to public education has been on a steady decline during this time. In 2008, the State and local taxpayers roughly shared 50/50 in education spending. However, today the State’s share is only 43% of total education spending. In 2008, the State contributed $4,226/student in weighted funding, today they are at $3,431 per student and without action in Austin this biennium, this number will continue to decline.

    Not only has the State put more pressure on local taxpayers, to fund public education, they have figured out the significance of these local value increases and utilized them for other non-educated related items. For example, in the last biennium, local property taxes collected in the name of education were used by the State legislature to fund a $2.6B franchise tax break for businesses (, page 228). While tax breaks for businesses could encourage economic growth, for the State to provide such breaks on the backs of public school students defies logic.

    The State should at a minimum:
    • Engage a third party to perform a study of what it costs in 2017 terms (versus 1990 terms that we are currently utilizing) to educate students and use this study to update funding and related weights accordingly.
    • Agree to maintain a consistent percentage of funding year over year (ideally the 50% level where we were in 2008).
    • Keep all dollars collected by local governments in the name of public education in public education.

    There is legislation proposed that will address all of these items and also legislation to simplify the current system. Supporters of public education should advocate for its passage.

Place 7
  • Lynn Davenport
    I don't profess to understand our Byzantine school funding system, but Texas ranks 38th in the country for per-pupil spending. I support funding for public education and will continue to encourage our legislators to continue making public education funding a priority. I do not support any bills for charter schools by our local representatives.

  • Kristin Kuhne (incumbent):
    Texas ranks 45th in the nation in funding per pupil. The state is failing to provide adequate funding for schools when the Texas Senate passes a budget that shifts nearly $2 billion in public education costs to local taxpayers. RISD residents benefit from the one of the lowest tax rates in the area and a homestead exemption. Given our current financial status, we should continue to provide this benefit and keep our current tax rate. As your trustee, I will fight to reform our current system of school finance so that increases in local property tax revenue don’t result in decreases in state revenue to the district. School districts don’t benefit from property value growth like cities and counties do. In fact, the revenue RISD receives from the state has declined by nearly 10% since 2008. Given the impact on our schools, I am demanding "Taxparency" to hold our state legislature accountable for keeping dollars our taxpayers spend on public education in public education. I adamantly supported an RISD resolution regarding property tax relief and transparency in taxation. I will continue to push for state funding that at least equals what our local property taxes contribute.

Part 1 of 6.

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