However, voters seem to have made an exception for schools.
Last week, for the first time since at least 2011, voters rejected most school district bonds on the November ballot. In light of other trends and local coverage, this new statistical record may reflect a mounting mistrust of Texas public education.
Bonds are tax-funded debt issued to pay for particular projects. Local governments like school districts, cities, or counties ask voters for permission to borrow money, often for building renovations or construction, to be paid back later with low interest.
Texas voters tend to approve most bonds. Over the past decade, about four in five proposed bonds have passed. This November, 109 of 174 bonds on the ballot passed.
Up until last week, school districts fit neatly alongside other local governments in this trend. According to data from the Texas Bond Review Board, voters have passed the wide majority of bonds on the ballot for the past decade.
In fact, since at least 2015, this year’s elections in May and November set a new peak for the number of school bonds passed, following a visible trough in bond proposals in 2020.
However, when narrowing results to November elections only, 2021 becomes a clear outlier. Last week, a majority of proposed bonds on the November ballot failed for the first time since 2011, when only 17 of the 37 proposed bonds passed.
Furthermore, voters approved most bonds for other local governments. Next to cities, counties, and even utility districts, disfavor for bonds in the November 2021 election was especially high for schools.
While most school bonds failed this November, the combined cost of the bonds that passed is still greater than the combined value of bonds that failed. In other words, voters this year approved more debt than they rejected.
Nonetheless, the results show a clear shift from both previous years and even May of this year, when voters approved a whopping 93 of the 113 school bonds on the ballot.
Local election coverage, outcomes for certain school board races, and enrollment data may all shed light on the sudden turnaround in voter favorability towards school bonds.
In some cases, concerns about transparency and diversity initiatives swayed parents’ votes. Leander ISD proposed a pair of bonds to pay for five new schools, renovations, and costs of some performing arts departments, together totaling nearly $740 million. However, rather than budgetary reasons, one group organized against the bonds and encouraged voters to reject them for the following reasons: “No pedophilia. No anti-Christian. No racial slurs. No CRT. No politics/ideologies. No bus/staff shortages. No official oppression.” The bonds failed, though district voters passed a third bond to fund technology supplies.
To the north, three out of four Fort Worth ISD bond packages failed, with one pundit partially crediting critical race theory concerns for mistrust of the district and rejection of the proposals. Despite voting down three school bonds, district voters approved a $400 million bond for the county, representing just one part of a pattern repeated elsewhere in the state.
More overtly, the same concerns drove turnout and propelled candidates that billed themselves as opponents of critical race theory indoctrination onto school boards in different areas of the state.
The Texas public school system, including charter schools, has also experienced a historic enrollment decline since COVID-19 began. The state statistics dovetail with private measurements of parents’ interest in home school.
Tuesday’s results also follow widespread disagreement between parents and school staff over how to spend the federal aid disbursed for COVID-19 recovery under the Trump and Biden administrations, amounting to $17 billion for Texas public schools.
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