2017 Year in Review

A lively legislative session — and a special session — that featured fights over bathrooms. Legal battles over abortion, immigration policy and political maps. A devastating hurricane. 2017 was filled with nonstop news in Texas. Here are the highlights.

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Texas legislators have been wrestling with school finance for decades, most recently balancing state and local financing for public schools more than a decade ago. Since then, the state’s share of the total per student cost has dropped, and the local share has risen to cover that — and then some.

In turn, school property taxes account for more than half of the average property tax bill. Rising property taxes are a top complaint of voters — one the state’s officeholders hear clearly and hope to resolve.

The problem? That forces them to choose from a list of unpopular options: Higher state taxes, higher local property taxes or cuts to public education. It’s hard to do, as you can see from the scant results.

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Here’s a sampling of columns tracking the debates over school finance and property taxes in 2017:

In the midst of all the gloomy state budget news, this stuck out like a gold nugget in a cow patty: Rising property values in the state’s school districts translate into higher local tax revenue, cutting the state's obligation to education.

It’s a confusing time in school finance, with a maelstrom of local and state governments trying to master a byzantine system that is faltering in every way but the most important one: The courts say it's broken, but constitutionally sound.

A state that wants to grow by freeing economic engines from regulations and taxes is throttling its cities and school districts with regulations and taxes.

A state law that's supposed to keep a leash on school tax increases might be preventing temporary tax breaks in the Texas districts with the highest tax rates. But reversing it could make it easier to raise taxes.

In Austin — the poster child for property tax recapture in Texas right now — the school district is telling taxpayers they’ll be sending $2.6 billion to the state over the next five years. That's inspiring some crazy ideas.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • There's a simple test to tell you whether the promise of a tax cut is really a tax cut: Is there money in your hand? [Full story]

  • As lawmakers debated property tax reform, we asked Texans to give us their take on the state-vs.-local fight about regulating rising property tax bills. Here’s a look at the legislative debate and how some Texans feel about the proposed measures. [Full story]

  • It would be unconstitutional to impose a statewide property tax. Even if one was enacted, however, that wouldn’t solve the structural issues with the state’s school finance system. [Full story]

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