Why are my ISD taxes so high? The Tale of the Four Ski Trips….

So let’s say that I decide to take my entire family on a ski trip.  My children are adults, unmarried.  There are two of them. I plan and pay for the whole thing—four of us on a ski trip in New Mexico.  I pay for the travel, the lodging, the food, the lift tickets.  We have a great time.  The entire trip costs us $10,000 and I pay the whole thing.

Two years later I decide to do the same thing.  But this time we go to a nicer ski lodge in Colorado.   It’s a bit more expensive this time, not only because we are traveling to Colorado, but also because both of my children have gotten married. So now there are six of us on the trip, and I don’t want to pay the full freight. So I tell my kids that I will pay 60% and they will be responsible for 40%.  Now the trip is up to $20,000.  I’m paying $12,000 and each of my children is paying $4000. They’re OK with that.

Three years later we do it again. But this time we are going to travel to a swank ski resort in Wisconsin.  And I now have grandchildren.  There are now eight of us on this trip.  More food. Child care, longer travel, nicer ski resort. The tab is now up to $30,000 and I tell the kids I will pay half. So my part has gone up from $12,000 to $15,000.  My kids each now owe $7500.  Their part has gone up from $4000 to $7500—almost a 50% jump.

Three years later we do it again.  This time to Lake Placid in upstate New York. This is a pricey trip—and we now have more grandchildren. The total tab this time is $40,000 and I tell the kids I will pay 40%.  So I now owe $16,000—just $1000 more than the last trip. The kids now each have to pay $12,000.

After that trip, my children confront me about this.  They complain that these ski trips are getting too expensive for them. They also notice that I make all the decisions about where we go, where we stay, where we eat.  They love these ski trips but they are getting too expensive.  They want me to pick up more of the cost, like I used to—and they also want to be able to make more of the decisions about where we go and what we do.

This causes a major family spat. I accuse them of being whiny, ungrateful and undisciplined.  Obviously, they are not handling their finances very well. They should be able to afford these trips. They must be spending money frivolously.

This is what has happened to Texas school finance over the past 20 years.

Like the ski trips, we are now serving many more children.  From 2006 to 2016 the student enrollment in Texas public schools rose by over 760,000—that’s 76,000 more students each year.   A rising percentage of those students are English Language Learners, and/or low income.

Like the ski trips, we have raised our standards. We don’t want mediocre schools, we want excellent schools. We have put in place standards and accountability measures that are intended to get us there.

Like the ski trips, one party makes almost all of the decisions. The State does that through legal mandates—some of them funded by the state; many of them not.

Like the ski trips, one party is paying less and less of the total cost, thus automatically passing the costs on to the others.  As state funding has gone down, local funding has gone up. It has to.

Here’s where the analogy breaks down. Nobody has to go on a ski trip. But we have a legal and moral obligation to provide education to the next generation. It’s high time that the state quit accusing local school board members and administrators of being wasteful and whiny.  It’s time for the state to pick up a larger share of the cost—like it used to do.

The Four Ski Trips might be a good way for you to explain this to those folks who are mystified by their rising property tax bills.


Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday and a creative teacher.