The Star-Telegram’s editorial suggests state law needs to be changed to allow school districts to tax more without a vote, even while noting that 77 percent of district rate increase requests and 75 percent of bond proposals were approved by voters in 2007.

So it seems that democracy is working – knowing that there is a roughly one in four chance such a proposition will be defeated, districts have some incentive to control their spending.  If districts cannot justify their need for more moeny with the built-in advantages that they often have in such elections, particularly in using tax dollars to comunicate with voters through thinly veiled advocacy pieces, then perhaps the additional funds are not truly needed.

Nonetheless, the article is quite correct in explaining that, under the latest changes in the school finance system, the windfall from rising appraisals ends in state coffers, rather than district coffers.  That means the Legislature in 2009 will decide whether to use an ever-growing surplus, or overpayment in taxes, to grow government or reduce property taxes.

The article quotes a study from school district consultants suggesting that per student state funding has not kept up with inflation, but that does not include increased federal funding many districts have received under No Child Left Behind, nor does it include bond proceeds, which are increasingly being used by Texas districts for recurring expenses like new computers for every student, not just bricks and mortar.  These figures also do not include the state merit pay program and the cost of state-paid teacher retirement benefits.

Ultimately, the recent school finance reforms will be judged by what the Legislature does with the proceeds from rising appraisals – that money should be returned to taxpayers but there is also the possibility that it may be spent on other programs that may produce less benefit than school districts would have with that extra money.  So, although school districts are threatening to sue the state yet again, there is no crisis, but there is certainly a consequential choice to be made.