Entitled “[O]ppose the development of voucher programs or any action similar in name or nature,” item six on the district’s legislative agenda spells out broad opposition to any school choice type legislation. It states that “public school funds are already severely limited” and that any program to remove funds that support public schools would be detrimental to ensuring each child has a quality education.
The position appears to run contrary to the wishes of voters in the district’s county as well as statewide politicians like Gov. Greg Abbott, who signaled strong support for school choice legislation during the midterm elections.
Ector County, which has an overwhelmingly Republican electorate, voted in the March 2022 Republican primary election for a school choice proposition put forward by the Republican Party of Texas deemed “Proposition 9.”
“Texas parents and guardians should have the right to select schools, whether public or private, for their children, and the funding should follow the student,” the proposition reads.
According to the Ector County Elections Office, Proposition 9 passed with slightly over 91 percent in favor. It passed statewide with over 87 percent in support, meaning the issue carries weight behind it going into the legislative session.
Another notable position that the school district has taken is on a business incentive program called “Chapter 313,” a state law that allows school districts to give property tax abatements to incentivize businesses to move into the area, thus spurring economic growth.
However, opposition in the Legislature blocked legislation to renew the program.
Since Chapter 313 was operating under a sunset provision that required the Legislature to renew it or be automatically dissolved, the program will officially cease to exist at the end of 2022.
Opponents of Chapter 313 say the program failed to bring in businesses that wouldn’t have moved in anyway, thus shifting greater tax burdens on taxpayers, and that the program was ripe with “crony capitalism.”
ECISD plans to resurrect a “redesigned” version of the business, writing, “Chapter 313 was an effective way to attract businesses to the state of Texas by providing tax incentives. Communities and school districts benefited from these agreements as they improved the local economy and contributed to the financial capacity of school districts. We support a redesign and implementation of Chapter 313.”
While ECISD may be running up against Gov. Abbott and the county’s primary voters on the school choice subject this session, their plan to redesign Chapter 313 may be aligned with plans by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), who has signaled support for legislation to renew the program.
The incentive program isn’t phasing out quietly either.
Several renewable energy companies filed suit against the Texas Comptroller’s Office, seeking a court order to force the comptroller to process all pending incentive applications that were submitted by school districts for review before the program’s deadline.
Hundreds of applications have been submitted, largely by renewable energy companies seeking to get “billions” in tax incentives grandfathered in, according to Comptroller Glenn Hager.
The flood of applications has caused a backlog in the comptroller’s office, causing anxious businesses to seek judicial assurance that their deal will be approved.
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Matt Stringer is a reporter for The Texan who writes about all things government, politics, and public policy. He graduated from Odessa College with an Associate Degree in Paralegal Studies and a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Leadership. In his free time, you will find him in the great outdoors, usually in the Davis Mountains and Big Bend region of Southwest Texas.