With the opening of Texas’ 2023 legislative session earlier this month, the legislative priorities unanimously passed by the Ector County ISD Board of Trustees last year are receiving renewed scrutiny. As recently reported in statewide and nationwide media the controversy centers on the District’s positions on school choice and bringing back Chapter 313 tax breaks.
According to a document released by the district, the official position of Ector County ISD is to “oppose the development of voucher programs” and to further “limit charter expansion and move the charter approval process to local school boards.” Speaking during the October 18th meeting of the Ector County ISD Board of Trustees, Trustee Delma Abalos defended her opposition to vouchers by stating that “everybody that supports public education really needs to speak out against any attempt to take money away from us.” This position, however, pits the board against growing support for vouchers. As reported, Governor Greg Abbott voiced support for the program last year, stating that the program gives parents “the choice to send their children to any public school, charter school or private school with state funding following the student.”
Governor Abbott’s support for so called “voucher” programs squares with Ector County voters who, when asked about “Proposition 9” in the March 2022 Republican primary election voted over 91% in favor of the proposition which read “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.”
“It is very frustrating and disturbing when elected officials are so clearly opposed to the wishes of the voters who they were elected to represent.” said Ector County Republican Party Chair Tisha Crow when asked about the District’s stated priorities. “It seems that our current school trustees are more interested in maintaining the status quo of long running failures in publicly managed schools rather than to strive to improve as they compete against other schools. We all know that competition raises the bar for everyone and ECISD’s stand against both charter schools and the school funding options that voters want clearly shows that ECISD needs new leadership on our Board”.
The district also officially supports reinstatement of the Chapter 313 tax break program, which expired at the end of last year. The district claims that “school districts benefited from these agreements as they improved the local economy.” However, not everyone is sold on the idea. According to a study by Dr. Nathan Jenson, about “85-90% of projects would have located in Texas without the 313 program.” Meanwhile, some other opponents of the program argued that it amounted to governments interfering in the market by picking winners and losers. Other opponents of 313 agreements have posited that while 313 agreements provide a short term boost to school coffers that long term these agreements steal away millions of dollars in school funding as they exempt huge amounts of potential tax dollars due to the abatements offered by local governments.
Unlike the district’s position regarding school choice, it does appear there is strong support for the district’s position on Chapter 313 among state leaders. In particular, Dade Phelan, who won reelection as the speaker of the state house, has voiced support for bringing the program back.
Several places on the Ector County ISD Board of Trustees will be on the ballot on May 6th. Place 1, 3, and 6 are up for four-year terms, while Place 7 is up for the remaining 2 years of an unexpired term. Filing for candidates opens on January 18th and ends February 17th.