As long as property taxes are the most important thing in Houston ISD, kids will lose.
They will lose. Every. Single. Time.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time going to virtually every board meeting and board workshop since becoming an HISD parent three years ago. And in that time, I haven’t seen a single issue get as much time, energy and attention as recapture.
Testing policies? Nope.
Annual budget? Not even close.
Renaming schools? Pretty controversial—maybe a hundred speakers over the course of a few meetings.
Magnet funding? Generates a good, one-time crowd of maybe 50 to 75 parents.
Hiring a new superintendent? Ha. Few people cared. Most of those who spoke publicly during the search were backed by business organizations or the teacher union. Then, once a finalist was selected, there wasn’t even a chance for public input.
But mess with our taxes—oh yea—get mad.
Both sides of the Prop 1 debate argue that one choice or the other will risk closing schools or laying off teachers or eventually raising our taxes. They scare uneducated voters with the possibility of catastrophic budget deficits and the assumption that there will be no choice but cut, cut, cut if we pick wrong.
What no one asks and no one talks about is…
With all this amazing commercial property HISD has and the billions in taxes it generates and with all the gloom and doom losing the property might bring, why doesn’t HISD have fanciest, most well-funded schools and the highest paid teachers in the state? Why aren’t we the envy of Texas public education and why would 35,000 students inside our district feel the need to flee their neighborhood school and long magnet waiting lists to attend third-party-run charter schools?
When the state cuts funding for public education, why doesn’t HISD take control of it’s own destiny and pony up a tax hike (predominantly falling on wealthier home owners and the big commercial properties) to fill in the gap? It’s for kids after all—everyone’s for kids, right?
I’ll tell you why.
HISD uses all that property wealth to keep taxes low. HISD would rather battle the same financial challenges as Aldine next door but with a 20% lower tax rate than to leverage its unique tax base to be all that it truly could be and truly impact the lives of all those “tough to teach” students.
The majority of school districts don’t have what HISD has—specifically, 4 out of every 5 school districts in Texas don’t have as much property to tax per student than HISD has. And that property value has grown and grown—an increase of $649 million dollars a year in the last 5 years. Look here... It's in black and white.
And I’ll tell you this… parents and students and teachers look around and have a tough time pointing to where that money is. And I’m not talking about new buildings and renovated classrooms—that’s a different pot of money. I’m talking about this school board having had a growing amount of money each year to educate relatively the same number of kids.
Where did all that money go? I don’t know. And you don’t either.
Which brings me back to my original point: Your vote doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter, because whether HISD has more or less money next year won’t make a bit of difference to our kids as long as parents don’t pay attention to how that money gets used. And they have to pay attention longer than one or two months to know whether anyone is telling the truth or just saying the right buzz words to get us to all calm down and go home. Who cares about who’s recapture projections are right if no one is going to pay attention long enough to find out?
We must demand that our elected school board do what’s best for kids all the time. And each one of those trustees will say they always do—which is great. I appreciate the intent. But it’s parents—the parents of kids who are inside HISD classrooms right now—that have to check the actions of those trustees at each step (as well as the actions of senior administrators the trustees themselves ignore all too often).
So if you want your choice on Prop 1 to matter… get the best information you can and go vote, but then for the love of whatever power you believe in, SHOW UP.
Show up again. And again. And then again.
However this recapture mess turns out, show up and be a part directing how the outcome gets managed.
After all, what happens next is the only part that really matters.