Texas’ founders recognized the value of an educated citizenry. Long before public education was acknowledged universally as a public necessity, it was mandated in our state Constitution, and over the years various mechanisms have been created to help fund it.
While the state’s total formula for public education funding is neither adequate nor fair, we appreciate the dedication of portions of various revenue streams, such as excise taxes and the state lottery, to support public schools.
One of those revenue streams is the leasing of public lands for oil, gas and mineral exploration or agricultural grazing. But there’s a limit to the amount of money that can be directed to schools.
Proposition 7 on the Nov. 5 state constitutional amendment ballot would raise that limit, and we encourage voters to support the proposition.
People already can vote early on this and nine other proposed constitutional amendments. This kind of state support for education is almost as old as the state itself. The Permanent School Fund was created in 1854 to use state revenue from public lands. The Texas General Land Office, which buys, sells, manages and leases state property, directs income from managing those lands to the State Board of Education, which puts it into the PSF account where it is invested to raise more income until it’s needed. That income goes into the Available School Fund and added to other sources of funding.
In 2011, voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the GLO to direct up to $300 million to the ASF. Because it’s a specific number, it’s a cap on GLO allocations, regardless of how much money it raises by leasing public land.
Prop. 7 would raise that limit to $600 million.
By no means do we advocate uncontrolled, or unlimited, funding for education. State officials are right to seek ways to ensure that spending is prudent and controlled. That is best achieved through the use of audits and performance reviews.
However, rising student populations and costs, at least for the foreseeable future, make hard caps on allocations unreasonable.
In fact, we would prefer an amendment that limited allocations to income, and not principal, of such accounts. Otherwise, we are sure to face another proposed amendment to further raise the limit in a few years.
After all, Texas’ public education budget far exceeds allocations from all these accounts combined, and the shortfall is made up from legislative allocations from the general fund and from property taxes.
Any increase in state funding, from GLO or other sources, reduces the need for local school districts to raise homeowners’ property taxes.
Raising the cap doesn’t mean that’s how much will be allocated each year, since only income can be used. If revenues in a given year are less than $600 million, that lower amount would be given.
The desire to control state spending is understandable. Providing the best public education possible, however, warrants relaxing restrictions on funding. Voting yes for Prop. 7 would reduce the need to tap into taxpayers’ pockets.