Voters in Fort Worth and Arlington school districts have the option on their November ballots to increase their own property taxes after both school boards approved increases above the state’s 2.5 percent limit.
In 2019, the state legislature lowered the limit-without-voter-approval from eight percent to 2.5 for school districts.
School district property taxes accounted for 54 percent of the overall total across the state in 2017. The total amount of property taxes collected across Texas increased by nearly 50 percent from 2010 to 2017.
Part of this can be attributed to appraisals increasing substantially. But the tax rate itself, and thus the final say on taxes paid by property owners, is up to the elected officials of specific districts.
Because of the state’s “Truth in Taxation” law, Tarrant County, like all counties, created a website at which taxpayers can see a breakdown of their rates and prospective bills for each taxing entity in which they reside.
Fort Worth ISD (FWISD) is proposing a 9.64-cent increase, totaling $1.3784 per $100 of taxable value on property. It does not have a homestead exemption. If approved, it will bring in over $62 million more than 2019 in property tax revenues. The district’s per-student spending averaged $10,981 over the last five years.
The median homeowner in the district, accounting for home value inflation, would pay $312 more on the ISD portion of their property tax bill than the previous year.
Arlington ISD (AISD), meanwhile, is opting for a $1.3871 tax per $100 of taxable value, amounting to an 8.843-cent increase. If voters pass the measure, it will yield a $42 million increase in property taxes collected from the previous year.
The State of Texas’ average over the same time frame is $9,479.
The national average from the 2012-2013 through 2016-2017 school years was $14,678.20 per student in 2019 inflation-adjusted dollars. Despite a 280 percent increase in per-student spending since 1960, the U.S. lags in global academic achievement rankings.
Arlington’s increase will be used to buttress teacher pay — something which AISD says will allow them to compete for higher-quality instructors — and increase pay for non-faculty, non-administrative staff like bus drivers, janitors, and security officers.
Among Tarrant County’s school district property tax rates, Arlington and Fort Worth rank 17th and 19th, respectively.
Additionally, the districts suggest that the tax increase would open the door for about $18 million in state aid, which they intend to use further for teacher salary increases and instructional programs.
FWISD just passed a $750 million bond in 2017 for capital improvements, but the school district says that funding cannot be used for faculty pay increases and other maintenance and operations costs.
Schools are financed by a combination of property taxes and state funding. In 2019, the state legislature spent $6.5 billion to finance teacher pay raises and buy down the property taxes which make up the school’s share of the funding balance. Typically, as one side increases in share, the other decreases.
A debate is raging between state leaders and local taxing entities over a potential loophole in last session’s property tax legislation triggered by the governor’s statewide disaster declaration. Localities contend it allows certain taxing entities to increase tax rates above the limits set by the new law without requiring voter approval.
However, regardless of the outcome of that debate, it does not apply to school districts, and so they remain locked to the 2.5 percent limit.
On each tax increase, voters will have their say on November 3rd backdropped by a pandemic-caused recession in which the state’s unemployment rate ballooned to double digits and now sits at eight percent, more than double the pre-coronavirus rate.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.