Texas: Is School Performance the Local Burden? – Samantha Fillmore

How the varying values of property taxes in Texas affect the school systems they are designed to support

Texas is the pinnacle of the low-service, low-tax model of government and it is commonplace to find any Texan proudly boasting this fact. Maintaining this basic tenant on which Texas was founded is of the utmost priority to Texas lawmakers and large numbers of Texas constituents. Although, sometimes this model of government can pose substantial challenges to public systems, especially the funding of such entities. When polled, Texans rank their legislative priorities firstly drawing attention to the desired lowering of property taxes, followed by a desire to reform school finance, calling for improvements. These desired improvements stem from great dissatisfaction with the fact that the majority of the bill for public education is picked up by those paying property taxes. On the other hand, it is also not a secret that Texas ranks among the bottom of the 50 states in terms of public education systems. More specifically, in recent data Texas is ranked 39th in the nation, weighing on the latter end of the quality of education students in the nation receive. One of the more daunting tasks the Legislature confronts is this balancing act between attempts to better the state’s schools while also attempting to lower property taxes.

Photo by Hope House Press – Leather Diary Studio on Unsplash

The public school districts in Texas are funded both by the state and by local property taxes. On the part of the State, the state guarantees a certain dollar amount of funding for each Texas student, with lawmakers determining this base-line value per student. The current base-line value per student is $6,160 as of the passing of House Bill 3, which was passed at the end of the preceding legislative session and was an unforeseen 20% increase from the previous per-student value that remained stagnant for over a decade. The secondary source of public school district funding is local property taxes. As of early 2019, roughly 64% of public school funding in Texas was supported by local property taxes, according to the Office of the Comptroller. With the bulk of school funding coming from property taxes and the inherently unequal nature of property tax values across the state, there is a correlation between the performance of school districts and the corresponding county’s average property tax values.

Using the data from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) given for the last six school years, ten the top-performing school districts, along with ten of the bottommost performing school districts in the state were selected to be further analyzed with regards to their overall performance based on the Texas Annual Performance Reports administered and published by the TEA. These school districts were then individually assessed based on their annual percentage of “Career and College Ready Graduates” as well as the annual STAAR Test Reports, specifically “All Grades, All Subjects: At Approaches Grade Level or Above”. By assessing school districts in these two distinct ways way not only is there a reliance on the results of the standardized testing of a district, but an emphasis on the percentage of graduates that would be overwhelmingly viewed as successful and prepared by their school district for the next step toward their future. Furthermore, in order to see if there, in fact, is a trend between performances and property taxes, the average property tax values for these 20 school districts have been collected.

Graphic by Samantha Fillmore. Data Source: Texas Education Agency
Graphic by Samantha Fillmore. Data Source: Texas Education Agency
Graphic by Samantha Fillmore. Average Property Tax Value for Counties of Top School Districts

It is no surprise that ten of the best performing public school districts in Texas are geographically located in five counties. The five being Cameron County, Collin County, Dallas County, Tarrant County, and Travis County. Of the five aforementioned counties, four of them fall in the larger metropolitan areas of Texas’s larger cities. Additionally, these counties are notoriously well-known for being the more affluent areas in which to live in Texas.

Graphic by Samantha Fillmore. Data Source: Texas Education Agency
Graphic by Samantha Fillmore. Data Source: Texas Education Agency
Graphic by Samantha Fillmore. Average Property Tax Value for Counties of Bottommost School Districts

Comparatively, the bottommost performing school districts are geographically located in counties that represent more rural and marginalized communities. These are counties such as Uvalde County, Robertson County, and Falls County. Therefore, it is correct to assert that the current design of this system unintentionally disenfranchises certain groups of young Texans from a higher quality of education based on the inequalities in the values of property taxes across the state and the correspondence that has to overall school district performances.

The findings of this research suggest that there is a persuasive connection between property tax values and school district performance. Current state formula for public school funding holds potential additions to the base-line value per-student intended to be an attempt to account for those living in rural districts and small towns, but clearly there is still an ample degree of inequality in the caliber of the education these children are receiving.

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

The graphs above show substantial differences in both data sets collected from TEA, but the differences are especially prevalent in the percentage of, “Career, and College Ready Graduates” category. This should be a substantial point of concern for all Texans moving forward in that reforming of our public education to produce more career and college ready graduates can only bolster the economy and fashion Texas into a more competitive state in the nation in terms of potential economic progress. As of the passing of House Bill 3 with the conclusion of our previous legislative session the state not only increased the base-line funding per student but also began to redesign the formulas for public school funding at local levels. This legislation is an adequate step in the right direction towards improving the quality of education for all Texas students. Although, it is important to note that this legislation is written only to be in effect for two years before it is back to the drawing board with the next convening of the Legislature. This is the time to look forward to funding proposals for the next legislative session and to continue to modify the formulas and keep Texas on a trajectory of increasing the quality of the Texas Public Education System. Hopefully, through this process of re-assessing public school funding there can be steps taken to mitigate the inequity that is occurring between school districts. Ideally, through the narrowing of these gaps in school performance the overall condition of the state’s education system will improve dramatically. After all, every young Texan should have an equal opportunity to the same quality of education, regardless of the county in which they live.

Ramsey, Ross. “Texans Think State Leaders Are Falling Short on Public Education, UT/TT Poll Finds.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 27 June 2018, www.texastribune.org/2018/06/27/public-school-property-taxes-texas-poll/.

Ramsey, Ross. “UT/TT Poll: How Texas Voters Rank the State Legislature’s Priorities.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 23 Feb. 2017, www.texastribune.org/2017/02/23/uttt-poll-how-texas-voters-rank-state-legislatures-priorities/.

Swaby, Aliyya. “Texas’ School Finance System Is Unpopular and Complex. Here’s How It Works.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 15 Feb. 2019, www.texastribune.org/2019/02/15/texas-school-funding-how-it-works/.

Swaby, Aliyya. “Teacher Raises and All-Day Pre-K: Here’s What’s in the Texas Legislature’s Landmark School Finance Bill.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 24 May 2019, www.texastribune.org/2019/05/24/texas-school-finance-bill-here-are-details/.

Texas Education Agency. “Texas Academic Performance Reports.” Texas Education Agency, Texas Education Agency, tea.texas.gov/Student_Testing_and_Accountability/Accountability/State_Accountability/Performance_Reporting/Texas_Academic_Performance_Reports.

“The 2019 Tax Resource.” Texas Property Taxes By County — 2019, www.tax-rates.org/texas/property-tax.

21, Jan. “Most & Least Educated States in America.” WalletHub, 21 Jan. 2019, www.wallethub.com/edu/e/most-educated-states/31075/.

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