School districts look to bonds as state continues to cut funding

SMCISD is feeling the pain of not having enough school bus drivers. (KXAN Photo)
SMCISD is feeling the pain of not having enough school bus drivers. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several Central Texas school districts will decide whether to ask voters for more than half a billion dollars in bonds. The state is constitutionally required to have a public school system, but money coming from state lawmakers is less and less each year.

The Round Rock Independent School District will consider a $530 million recommendation from its citizens bond committee. The school board north of Austin will decide on Thursday whether to take the issue to voters. Hays CISD already has a bond on this May’s ballot for more than $200 million. 

The money would pay for new schools and other needs in the fast-growing districts. In tough budget times, the state is struggling to pay its share.

In Round Rock ISD, the signs of growth are easy to spot, with portable buildings around the district and new construction. Workers continue to expand Round Rock High School after voters approved a bond in 2014. The district is now asking for another bond of at least $500 million to pay for several projects including a new high school, raising property taxes for the average home $20 a year.

“A lot of expansive growth. Our parents are really asking for more services,” said Corey Ryan from Round Rock ISD. He says the district has seen extreme growth over the last five years.

In that time, state funds for the district have gone down $35 million, leaving local property taxpayers to fill the gap. Hardly any lawmakers say everything is OK with our state’s “Robin Hood” system, where property rich school districts help pay for property poor districts. The Texas Supreme Court ruled the state’s system is legal but not good.

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, filed a constitutional amendment, HJR 27, requiring the state to pay for exactly half of your child’s education.

“Most politicians and elected officials will tell you that public education is the most important thing we do here. I think we need to put our money where our mouths are,” said Rep. Howard.

She says the biggest hurdle will be the state’s tight budget where lawmakers will have to get creative to avoid cuts to current programs. People in Round Rock will be watching.

“Any time that we could get additional funds it would go back to the classrooms or back to our homeowners and the burden of our local property owners,” said Ryan.

The state is paying a smaller share of the cost of public education in Texas.

Back in 2012, the state paid nearly half of the the cost of public schools. This year, the state’s share is estimated to drop to 41 percent of the cost. Numbers from the Texas Education Agency predict local districts will have to pick up more than 60 percent of the cost by 2019.

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