Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, visited UTD on Feb. 7, attracting a diverse crowd of approximately 300 people to hear his proposal to overhaul the state’s method of funding public education.
Shapleigh presented a series of arguments that ultimately amounted to a proposed 5 percent flat income tax, two-thirds of which will go towards cutting property taxes and one-third of which will be geared to improve the quality of public schools.
“Increasing the sales tax or property tax is not a viable option, because both are already too high and both are regressive,” Shapleigh said. “We need a new system to replace Robin Hood and we need to let the voters choose from all of the options.”
Shapleigh asked the attendees to vote on tax options to raise the revenue needed for education. Shapleigh beamed at the overwhelming response in favor of a new funding plan for Texas public education.
“In poll after poll, Texans tell us that they want quality public schools. If we will put the money in the classrooms, Texans will invest,” Shapleigh said.
For several decades, the state has relied on the Robin Hood funding system to pay for an equitable education for all of Texas’ children. According to Shapleigh, disparities continue to increase between rich and poor districts.
“The gap can only be $600 or there is a disparity in education,” Shapleigh said. “Under current funding, the gap is greater than $1,000 per student which means there is a severe equity gap in Texas education.”
Shapleigh added that this disparity already places Texas as 32nd in the nation in teachers’ salaries, 41st in state aid per pupil, 45th in number of high school graduates and 47th in average SAT scores.
“Even the Republicans will tell you that companies that want well-educated, skilled workers will not locate in a state where high school students do not graduate or perform well on the SAT,” Shapleigh said.
What this means, according to Shapleigh, is that for the first time in its history, Texas may be looking at the possibility of being less prosperous in the future. He estimated that household income could decline by $5,000, which would pull $60 billion out of the Texas economy.
This is a problem. This means tax reformation, Shapleigh said.
“The T-word is a tough one to bring up”, Shapleigh said. “But the people of this state have shown that they are willing to accept that what you own, what you buy, and what you make are built around the outcomes of public education.”
Incidentally, Shapleigh added that these three items are precisely what can be taxed: property taxes, sales taxes and income taxes, respectively.
He offered his best solution to the issue and concluded his presentation with the mantra “Invest in Kids, Invest in Our Future proposal: Let Texans Vote!”