When I was asked to contribute the Education Notes this week, I wasn’t sure what to write about. As a school board member, I don’t have the kind of day-to-day experiences in the schools that I love reading about in this column. So I decided to go with the classic advice to “write what you know” – in my case, school funding. Many of us know that our school is paid for by property taxes, and that PAISD is a “Robin Hood” district, but the details beyond that can be confusing. Nonetheless, it’s important for us – as parents, citizens, taxpayers – to understand how property taxes are used (or not) for our schools. After much thought, I boiled down everything I’ve learned in eight years on the school board to the following six things I’d most like p e opl e to understand about school funding.
First, pretty much all of our school budget comes from property taxes collected in Port Aransas. Of our $7.9 million budget, $7.53 million (more than 95%) is from our property taxes. The federal government provides $184,000 for technology and food service. The state adds $189,000 – the minimum required by law.
Second, most of our property taxes don’t stay in our schools. This year, Port Aransans will pay $ 28.2 million in property taxes for schools. Only $7.53 million stays in our school budget, and the difference, $20.3 million, goes to the state. You may have heard this called “recapture” or “Chapter 41 money.”
Third, we don’t have much control over our property tax rate or the size of our budget. The state sets a minimum tax rate for schools and tells us how much we are required to pay in recapture. If we reduce our tax rate below the minimum, we pay the same in recapture, and end up with less money in our budget. The state also calculates the maximum we can keep per student, so increasing our tax rate just increases our recapture, not our budget.
Fourth, contrary to what some politicians would have you believe, our school is not playing fast and loose with your property tax dollars.
Most of our budget (73 percent) is used to pay our employees. The next biggest costs are property insurance at 6.3 percent, utilities at 4.3 percent, and tax appraisal charges at 5 percent. That leaves 12 percent of our budget for everything else.
Fifth, while costs keep increasing, our school budget does not. In this last year, school property insurance increased 24 percent, inflation was 7.9 percent, and the appraised property value in Port Aransas went up by 16 percent. In stark contrast, our budget per student went up by 0.01 percent. Which leads me to my last point…
Sixth, higher property values across Texas, not just here, means more property taxes pouring into the state budget for education, but it doesn’t translate into more funding for schools. How is this possible? The Texas legislature sets the amount of money in the K-12 education budget. This money comes from two sources – local property tax recapture and state funds. As recapture goes up, the state doesn’t increase the overall amount of the education budget. Instead, more recapture means the state share of the education budget decreases. The state monies that were earmarked for education are then freed up for use in other parts of the state budget. In essence, our property taxes, intended as support for our local school, are used to subsidize the general state budget.
Hopefully this helped shine some light on the path from property taxes to school funding in Texas. If you want to know more, good places to start are Recapture Texas at recapturetexas.org/ and the Texas School Coalition at www.txsc.org/texasschool finance-faqs/. Hopefully I’ve also inspired some of you to make some noise. As a taxpayer who is also a school board member, it makes me crazy that I pay more property tax every year yet struggle with a flat school budget that won’t allow us to increase our teacher salaries to be competitive with neighboring districts. This is an election year, and a perfect chance for me to use my voice and my vote to tell legislators how important school funding is to me. I encourage all of you to do the same.