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Dueling Plans

Even though the Texas legislature doesn't meet again until next year, competing school funding plans are being bandied about.

The most prominent came recently from Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff, a Republican, who wants to institute a statewide property tax to help pay for schools.

Instead of districts' setting tax rates and collecting revenues, the state would collect almost all property taxes and then dole out money to schools based on a pre-established formula.

John Cole, the president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said, "[Mr. Ratliff] has thrown a challenge out to the high-wealth systems and their lobbyists who are whining" that the current aid formula is unfair.

Meanwhile, Craig Foster, an advocate for low-wealth schools, is championing a separate plan. His model would shift commercial land with high tax values to the tax rolls of communities that do not generate enough property- tax revenues for their schools.

While it's unclear whether either of those ideas will get far next year, Mr. Ratliff's plan has generated the most serious discussion—much of it critical.

He wants to scrap the current system, which lets local school districts set their own tax rates—up to $1.50 per $100 of appraised value. And he'd do away with the state's equalization formula, by which property-wealthy districts must share some of their tax money with property-poor districts.

Currently, even though property-rich districts can set their own tax rates, their obligation to share their tax revenue under the so-called "Robin Hood" system has some of them steaming, and they want a change.

But the plan Mr. Ratliff has proposed would not allow those districts to keep their property-tax proceeds.

Mr. Cole said his union's official position was to support the plan: "We've never met a tax we didn't like."

—Michelle Galley

Vol. 21, Issue 31, Page 21

Published in Print: April 17, 2002, as State Journal

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