State Rep. Dennis Bonnen took the gavel as Speaker of the House yesterday, and asked for cooperation across the aisles (Photo courtesy Rep. Bonnen’s Facebook page).

Bathrooms? That’s so 2017. The new hot legislative priorities lighting up Austin this legislative session are school finance and property taxes.

Think I’m kidding? New House Speaker Dennis Bonnen put it on a cup — actually, every cup in the Senate lounge is now emblazoned with “School Finance Reform, The Time Is Now.”

The session gaveled in knowing already that state Comptroller Glenn Hegar had told them that they would have about 8.1 percent more in funding available for public programs like schools and healthcare in the next two years, for about a $119.1 billion state budget. But he also cautioned legislators that they wouldn’t be able to make it rain — oil prices are falling and the U.S. economy is uncertain, leaving any prognostication as to how revenue will look a bit muddled.

But one couldn’t help but notice a sense of cooperation in both houses of the state legislature, one not generally felt in the last session, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick embarked on a much-lamented quest for passage of a bathroom bill and school vouchers, both of which failed.

Bonnen, in his address Tuesday, made a plea for more bipartisanship.

“In a state as big and diverse as Texas, there are plenty of ideas about what we should do on any one issue and these ideas often point in different directions,” Bonnen said. “It’s our job to reconcile the differences.”

The makeup of the two bodies is also different this time around. Democrats gained 12 seats in the house last November, with Republicans holding the Texas House with 83 seats to Democrats’ 67. In the Senate, there are 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Thanks to the three-fifths rule, a kill on an unpopular GOP bill like a bathroom bill would be just one Republican renegade away, unlike the last session, when the Democrats were outnumbered 20 to 10.

This pivot away from the unpopular bathroom bill, especially (Patrick even called it “settled” when asked about it Wednesday), bodes well for proponents of retooling public education finance, as well as property owners looking for relief from rising property taxes. (more…)

Property Tax

(Courtesy the Center for Public Policy Priorities)

Yesterday morning, the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees met for several hours to review next year’s proposed budget.

It ain’t good.

And yes, being able to maintain the great strides the district is making is going to cost money that may only be available through a tax ratification election — meaning superintendent Michael Hinojosa is proposing for the third time (maybe three times is a charm) that the board consider sending a 13 cent property tax increase to the voters come November.

I mean, you can only cut so much before you have, as Hinojosa said yesterday, cut your way to the bottom.

It’ll be an uphill climb. People will blame the district. People will ask what the heck the district does with all its money, and how it can afford to open new schools and start a transportation department and still apparently poor mouth the taxpayers.

So let’s talk about that. (more…)

property taxIt’s a drum several Dallas ISD trustees have been beating for a while — a Tax Ratification Election that would allow the district to increase services and programs at dozens of at-risk schools with the money raised by increasing property taxes rates.

But they’ve yet to get it on the ballot. (more…)

By Phil Crone
Executive Officer, Dallas Builders Association

Everyone loves trees, so why are they so controversial? They are the focus of years of back and forth in the Texas legislature and the subject of intense debate at several city halls and neighborhood meetings in the Dallas area.

It may come as a surprise to some that when you purchase land, the city can require that trees come at an additional cost if they must be removed to make way for your home site. If you happen to be building in South Dallas, the cost for tree removal can approach or exceed the price of the land itself. These fees do not come from the world’s most expensive logging company; instead, they come in the form of mitigation fees assessed by the city based on the size and species of the trees that need to be removed.

(more…)

By Phil Crone
Executive Officer, Dallas Builders Association

With so much of the news cycle focusing on Washington, D.C., many may be unaware that Texas is in the thick of a legislative session. That will certainly change soon as we approach the March 10 bill filing deadline and debate heats up on topics ranging from the budget to bathrooms. For the residential construction industry that represents more than $31 billion in economic activity and more than 702,000 jobs in the state—there is a lot on the line.

As it stands right now, our Association has more than 50 pages of bills in our “decision list,” meaning they have an impact on home building one way or another. While the Texas legislative process is designed to kill bills as opposed to passing them (the old Schoolhouse Rock Bill on Capitol Hill skit rarely has a happy ending in Austin), we nonetheless are optimistic that this session will be a positive one for the housing industry.

(more…)

 

The fight over school funding will commence in the Texas legislature soon - but no bill is filed just yet.

The fight over school funding will commence in the Texas legislature soon, but no bill is filed just yet.

This week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott donned yellow scarves and held a “School Choice Week” rally in Austin.

“I hope and I urge that that law reach my desk,” Abbott declared. “And when it does, I will make the choice to sign it and authorize school choice in the state of Texas.”

Across the country, the nation spends about $1 billion per year to send students to private schools.

A bill (and nobody knows for sure what it will look like because it hasn’t been filed yet) will likely easily pass in the Texas senate, where Republicans outnumber Democrats (who are largely opposed) 20-11. Less clear is if it could pass the House, despite the fact that there are 95 Republican members and 55 Democrat members.

Why? One reason, I suspect, is because while private schools are abundant in more urban areas, in more rural parts of the state public school is the only available choice. Will the potential of vouchers lure private and charter schools further afield? That remains to be seen. But I imagine that support for choice is a little more tentative in areas where the public school district is the sole provider of education, where constituents may be reluctant to cut back on that funding even more.

(more…)

IMG_4627

A few months back, we thought we had found a great Pre-K program (private, of course, because we don’t qualify for Pre-K with Dallas ISD), only to find the great program that allegedly churns out kindergarten readers who love books actually consisted of five worksheets Tiny was doing in the 3-year-old room at our beloved Mother’s Day Out.

After an arduous month where a bored 4-year-old boy did bored 4-year-old boy things, we opted to leave in favor of finding a new program. And this time, we decided, we wouldn’t let the checkbook necessarily be the thing that was the weighted factor in our decision.

We looked at schools where the monthly tuition is more than our mortgage. They were lovely, and no doubt would have taught Tiny ably and he would’ve had fun. We looked at half-day programs. We found three-day programs and co-op programs and foreign language programs. Ultimately, we found three we liked after phone conversations, a careful review of the curriculum, and looking at the tuition, but let Tiny pick the program after we toured each school. After all, once curriculum and realistic budget were out of the way, whether or not he liked it was really half the decision-making process. (more…)

Kevin Caskey, Dallas City Center Realtors director, talks to WFAA about how school ratings influence home prices.

Kevin Caskey, Dallas City Center Realtors director, talks to WFAA about how school ratings influence home prices.

With the Texas legislature set to approve a new letter grading system that adds more clarity and precision to the TEA’s rating categories, Realtors are wondering how the new approval guide will affect housing prices. The measure just cleared the Senate and is headed for the house.

Lake Highlands resident and Dallas City Center Realtors director Kevin Caskey weighed in during this report from WFAA (Channel 8) on the matter. Caskey and his husband have two children at Richardson ISD’s Wallace Elementary, and has seen how changes in demographics have influenced school ratings, and thereby impacting home prices.

“Those rankings are not always representative of what the school truly is,” he said. “I have two children at Wallace Elementary in Lake Highlands, and that school, particularly, has a huge population of Burmese refugees. When those children came in — of course, because of language barriers and such — the scores did go down… therefore the rating did go down.”

Jump for the video!

(more…)