The Dallas Examiner
Strong Schools Strong Dallas, a coalition of educational, youth-oriented and advocacy groups, is set to present a new Tax Ratification Election program to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees on Aug. 5.
“Strong Schools Strong Dallas is a grassroots collection of voices from the community who are advocating on behalf of our kids,” said Ed Turner, a coalition member. “We surveyed more than 2000 parents, teachers and voters across the city – especially in South Dallas and Oak Cliff, and a majority of the people support a small increase in their property taxes in order to make a big difference in our schools for our students.”
The proposed tax-funded program is designed to provide equitable access to quality education for all Dallas ISD students. This would mean a focus on providing high-quality teachers and higher teacher salaries, expanding school programs, college/career-ready graduates, more culturally focused programs, an improved disciplinary system, improved student and family support services and better family/school collaborations – in underserved areas, rather than across the board.
Commit!, which leads the coalition, revealed – after talking to residents in each district – these values were highest among their priorities.
Other coalition partners are Texas Organizing Project, For Oak Cliff, Faith in Texas, Alliance AFT, Academic Success Program, Children at Risk, City Square, Tutor • Read • Mentor, Stand for Children-Texas and Dallas Kids First, along with 10 other organizations.
Representatives acknowledged that the school district has made significant progress in many areas; prekindergarten enrollment is up 25 percent, kindergarten enrollment is up 12 percent and 9 percent more students graduated college-ready.
However, the group pointed out a current gap in academics and economics between minority and White children, stating that there is a greater need for funding in school districts south of the downtown area.
Last year, African American students performed at a 56 percent satisfactory level and Hispanic students at a 68 percent satisfactory level during the STAAR assessment exam, while White students performed at an 86 percent satisfactory level, according to the Texas Academic Performance Report 2015-16 for Dallas ISD.
If the TRE plan sounds familiar, it is – kind of.
Last year, Dallas ISD trustees were introduced to the TRE proposal that would raise taxes by 13 cents in an effort to provide up to $104 million a year for new early childhood and early college programs and to increase teachers’ salaries.
The proposal was met with a mixture of fervent support for higher achieving schools and better pay for educators and equally vehement opposition based on concerns about raising taxes and a need for better accountability measures.
Moreover, some board members felt the vote was being rushed to meet a deadline and not enough attention had been given to the details, as major parts of the proposal continued to change.
After long discussion, the board voted not to have it added to the November ballot.
So, what changed?
The new TRE proposal would impose a 6 cents tax on homeowners, which for each district could look vastly different. Districts with lower property values, generally in the Southern and West neighborhoods, could see an increase of $30 to $75 per tax period. Other districts could experience in increase of $100 to $375 per tax period. For example, homeowners who currently pay around $75,415 each year in taxes would pay an additional $45.25 each year, while homeowners who pay around $486,089 each year could pay an additional $291.65.
Moreover, the coalition stated that as property values continue to rise, the state Legislature provided less funding to school districts, resulting in a $20 million budget cut last school year. The largest cut ended Imagine 2020, a $12.6 million program that would focus on the specific needs of students and teachers in the district’s Southern and West Dallas schools.
Next year, a proposal of an additional $60 million is expected. Unless student enrollment increases significantly, Dallas ISD could face a “Robin Hood” plan – in which school districts with more property value “share the wealth” with districts of lower property value – as soon as 2018-19 and could return as much as $343 million to the state by 2021-22, according to the coalition.
If passed, the TRE would raise an additional $122 million, or $750 per student, each year. The plan indicates that the money would be directed toward programs and operations.
Another concern, accountability and measures for the success of the TRE program, was also addressed. Though no specific measures were mentioned, the district would be accountable for achieving certain goals after a five- or six-year period in order to continue the tax-funded program.
In an effort to gain support from the community, members of the coalition met with residents of each district.
Overall, most attendees didn’t support the 13 cents property tax increase, however 61 percent said they would support a 6 cent increase to support better school programs. Additionally, 68 percent were in support of the tax increase if it had a five to six-year accountability measure.
The TRE’s next hurdle is trying to get it past Dallas ISD trustees. If it passes, it will be added to the ballot in November and voters will make the final decision.