If you hang around the state Capitol for more than a few hours, you will hear people talk about a “fiscal note” being attached to a bill. If a bill has a fiscal note, it’s another way of saying, “Dear Taxpayer: Beware. This is going to cost you.”
Better to know the cost of that shiny new car before you drive off the lot.
But there’s a problem. Many bills that will cost you dearly have unrealistically low fiscal notes, because they only speak to state or local tax revenues that are needed to support the cost of implementation. New laws can cost you and Texas’ economy in huge ways, even though those costs may not show up on the window sticker.
A classic example is the so-called “Districts of Innovation” (DOIs) law adopted in the 2015 session of the Legislature. The law allows public school districts approved as DOIs to be exempted from certain provisions of the Texas Education Code. Local DOIs include Alamo Heights Independent School District and San Antonio ISD.
The intent was good. Sponsors meant to free DOIs of restrictions that could suffocate experimentation with new approaches to improve student performance.
But the DOIs law might also be labeled as the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Here’s why. I represent the Texas Travel Industry Association, which includes about 750 member businesses and organizations. Travel and tourism account for 1.4 million permanent jobs – direct and indirect – in our state, according to Ray Perryman, the noted economist from Waco.
Under the new law, more than 200 DOIs already have exploited a loophole in the law by setting their own individual start dates for the 2017-2018 school year, some as early as Aug. 7. In San Antonio, Alamo Heights ISD begins school on Aug. 21, while SAISD starts on Aug. 14. We expect the number of early starts to grow to 500 districts by this fall.
That contradicts a law adopted in 2006 that prohibited starting classes before the fourth Monday in August, which this year is Aug. 28. That law was adopted because in the 1990s, Texas school districts had created a mishmash of instructional starts that were as early as Aug. 2 and wreaked havoc on August vacations.
A study completed in March by the Perryman Group determined the total annual economic losses of shifting the average school start date one week earlier in August would cost the Texas economy:
• More than $1 billion in aggregate spending
• $543.2 million in output, or gross product
• 7,506 jobs in travel industry jobs
• $62.1 million in state tax revenues
The costs pile up in other ways. Research shows there are up to 166,000 businesses in Texas that rely upon travel and tourism activity as a significant source of revenue.
Travel and tourism is a predominantly small-business industry. In Texas, 60% of industry jobs are small-business jobs. Early school start dates will hurt small businesses the most. We all know small-business owners in our communities that will be hurt by DOI early start dates.
There remains no evidence to show that early start dates improve student educational performance and achievement. But there is ample evidence to substantiate and quantify the economic and job losses that result from early start dates. And the price tag is exorbitant to the working men and women who pay taxes in Texas.
In 2013, Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research found that 59% of registered Texas voters opposed starting school earlier than the fourth Monday in August. An overwhelming 75% support a September-through-May school calendar.
The current uniform start dates provide consistency with the state’s tax-free shopping weekends, helping retailers predict and prepare for the weekend that is traditionally held before school starts.
Data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau found that when schools opened before Labor Day, family travel decreased by 50% during August and September. Only one in five households rescheduled their trips for an earlier summer vacation.
Equally as important as the statistics is the personal toll that early start dates take on the working families of Texas. These are people who do not fly off to Utah at Christmas for a week skiing. These are people who do not rent a villa in St. Maarten to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
Legislation was introduced during the current session of the Texas Legislature to prohibit Districts of Innovation from starting school before the fourth Monday. Unfortunately, with the closing days of the session upon us, that bill has not made it out of committee.
If you oppose early-August school start dates, I urge you to let your legislator and school district officials know.
The working men and women of Texas, who work hard at their jobs and often have less flexibility on vacation time, are folks who load up their pickup trucks and haul the family to a Texas state park, the Alamo, a family-focused theme park, or Texas beaches.
More than any other month in the year, that happens in August. Let’s not deny those folks a traditional family vacation for the sake of an educational experiment that is unproven in value.