In response to calls for change by their workers and Coloradans for the Common Good, the Jefferson County School Board approved a $3/hr increase to the minimum wage of all Educational Support Professionals (ESP). Nearby, the Denver Federation ratified a contract that increases the minimum wage to $20/hr for para-educators and over $18/hr for nutrition employees. This equates to tens of millions of dollars for working families in the metro area, and required coordinated action between unionized educators and Coloradans for the Common Good.
Last fall, CCG leaders organized an accountability assembly, leveraging commitments from every JeffCo School Board candidate at the time to support wage increases for ESPs if elected. When it became clear more pressure was needed, leaders returned to the JeffCo Board this spring.
At the same time, CCG organized a rally at Valdez Elementary with over 350 educators, parents, and community members to push for wage increases in Denver Public Schools (DPS). Leaders soon followed up with a press conference where the DPS Board President, Vice President, and an additional school board member committed to increasing wages.
[Photo Credits: (Top) Olivia Sun, Colorado Sun; (Right) Helen Richardson, The Denver Post]
At the Point Isabel ISD Board meeting, Texas LNG sought last-minute approval for tax abatement through the expiring Chapter 313 program. Leaders from Valley Interfaith, alongside allied organizations, made the case to the board.
On a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the school district voted not to go forward with the applications.
Several Port Isabel area residents voiced opposition, both to Texas LNG on environmental grounds, and to the abatements, saying Texas LNG deserves to have to pay its fair share of taxes.
Valley Interfaith and the other objectors said Texas LNG doesn’t need the abatement because the project has been planned for years and the company has already decided to build the facility here.
“Valley Interfaith congratulates the superintendent and PIISD Board members for their willingness to look at the facts and reject this application for huge tax abatements for an LNG export terminal they
have long planned to build in the Port of Brownsville area,” said Father Kevin Collins, O.M.I. pastor of S. Eugene of Mazenod Church in Brownsville and Valley Interfaith. “They don’t need to take money from Texas school children to build a profitable LNG export facility at a time when the whole world is clamoring for liquified natural gas,” Collins said.
Point Isabel School District Rejects Texas LNG Tax Abatement, The Brownsville Herald [pdf]
Last year Texas IAF organizations led the charge to end Chapter 313, a program that had given away $10 billion in windfall tax breaks for corporations. However, hundreds of Chapter 313 applications are being filed in the rush to get in before the end of the program, including some with projects slated for decades from now.
“It’s like hogs at the trough,” said Bishop John Ogletree, an official with the faith-based Texas Industrial Areas Foundation, which has opposed the arrangements.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and interest groups have begun discussing how to craft a replacement during next year’s legislative session to keep the tax breaks flowing.
The Chapter 313 deals — named for their location in the state tax code — let companies slash 10 years worth of school property tax bills they otherwise would owe on newly constructed factories and energy projects.
Over the past decade the state comptroller’s office has received an average of about 90 applications annually from companies seeking the subsidy.
Since the Legislature adjourned at the end of May 2021, by comparison, records show companies have filed requests for more than 460 new tax breaks — about 400 in the past five months alone.
Typically, companies sought Chapter 313 tax breaks for projects two to four years in the future, with the occasional oil and gas facility taking six or seven years to complete. Since last May, however, companies have applied for 120 of the subsidies for facilities not scheduled to open until at least 2028. At least 10 won’t be online for a decade or more.
Despite the program’s demise, applicants “have figured out how to extend it,” said Rev. Minerva Camarena-Skeith, of Central Texas Interfaith.
Their strategy seems to be, “Just in case, let’s get 10 years of requests in in one year,” added Bob Fleming, of The Metropolitan Organization, the Houston branch of the Texas Industrial Areas Foundation. “I don’t know anybody who can forecast their needs 30 years out.”
....by slow-walking the end of a program they said was giving away too much money to corporations at the expense of Texas taxpayers, legislators have now put the state on the hook for billions of additional tax breaks that Texans will be paying off well into the middle of the century.
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle]
"This takes money away from children's education and gives it to corporations, and that is a nonstarter," said Mother Minerva Camarena Skeith, [Reverend of] St. John's Episcopal Church in North Austin. "The corporation was the one that would have been their responsibility as part of our community to do their fair share of investing into our children. Right? And they have abdicated that. They just don't do that. Then we have to pick up the slack."
With Chapter 313 set to expire at the end of the year, the state's comptroller office has received a record number of applications. Since Jan. 1, 2022, school districts sent in 393 company Chapter 313 applications. In any given year before this, the office received maybe 150 applications.
"If all these things get approved, like, we could bankrupt the state," Rev. Miles Brandon worried.
"Anybody who's fiscally conservative at all should have a have a real problem with the unlimited nature of 313."
When NXP sprung a request for a Chapter 313 tax subsidy before the Austin Independent School District, Central Texas Interfaith leaders decided to descend upon a meeting of the Board of Trustees to ask them to reject the request. Chapter 313 tax subsidies are 10 year tax breaks to major gas, oil and manufacturing corporations that drain $1 Billion from state coffers on an annual basis. In response to a barrage of 20 CTI leaders testifying over the phone and in person against the tax giveaway, NXP (the company requesting the subsidy) changed the number of promised jobs on their application during the meeting from the statutory minimum of 25 to 500 overall.
The majority of community members who provided testimony on May 19 asked the board to vote against the Chapter 313 agreement with NXP. [Twenty] speakers were members of Central Texas Interfaith, a nonpartisan coalition of congregations, schools and unions that opposes Chapter 313.
“Hardworking taxpayers don’t get this kind of giveaway. Nor do small businesses, or responsible corporations,” said Central Texas Interfaith leader Trenton Henderson. “We want our money to go to public schools, but not to pay the bills for corporations shirking their responsibility to public education. Without a Chapter 313 agreement, NXP would have to pay their full share of school taxes.”
NXP Seeking Up To $140 Million in Tax Breaks for School Districts, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Chapter 313 Incentives: What They Are and Why They're Suddenly the Talk of the Town, Austin Business Journal [pdf]
Oped: Don't Ask Texas Schoolchildren to Fund Your Corporate Expansion, Austin Chronicle [pdf]
AISD Board Meeting Broadcast, Austin Independent School District [calls begin at -2:33:30, in person testimony at -1:52:30]
NXP Semiconductors, which is based in the Netherlands and has two fabrication plants in Austin, is seeking tax breaks from the Austin Independent School District under the state's Chapter 313 incentive program for proposed expansion. An initial presentation to the district's board Tuesday night didn't specify the amount, but previous incentives agreements from Texas school districts for similar Chapter 313 deals have been for tens of millions of dollars.
The Chapter 313 incentives program — which is named after a portion of the tax code — has been controversial. It's set to expire at the end of this year because state lawmakers declined to renew it during last year's legislative session, although deals struck before then won't be affected....
Under the Chapter 313 program, school districts are reimbursed by the state for the corporate tax breaks they agree to provide. That attribute has made Chapter 313 controversial among critics who say school districts have no reason not to grant them, and that the program siphons money from taxpayers statewide as handouts to corporations.
“There's no such thing as free money," said Doug Greco, lead organizer with Central Texas Interfaith, a group that opposes all Chapter 313 deals and has worked to help end the program.
“It's money that is being drained out of the state budget that could be going to schools," Greco said. "When you add these (deals) up, it's just a drain on the system that we can't sustain. Let's stop the gold rush here."
[Photo Credit: Mark Matson, Austin American Statesman]
Chipmaker NXP Considers Austin for $2.6 Billion Expansion, Up to 800 New Jobs, Austin American Statesman [pdf]
The El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization (EPISO) and Border Interfaith held its first in-person candidate accountability session Sunday since the pandemic.
The six El Paso County Commissioners Court candidates remaining in the May 24 primary runoff election for Precincts 2 and 4 were invited to the session where they were asked to state their position on policies such as colonias, education and economic development programs....
The incumbent for Precinct 2, David Stout, and Judy Gutiérrez, a candidate for Precinct 2, both attended the meeting.
Sergio Coronado and David Adams, are both candidates for Precinct 4, and they were in attendance.
"I thought it was a great meeting. I wish more organizations, people would take the time to inform themselves, of what their candidates are willing and wanting to do for the people... how you’re [candidates] aligning to my needs," Coronado said.
[Photo Credit: KFOX 14/CBS4]
As Des Moines Public Schools shifts disciplinary policy, Axios contrasts the new discipline rules to the “Let’s Talk” conflict resolution strategy that A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS) designed and successfully implemented in Des Moines Middle Schools 8 years ago.
The rules [assigning students involved in fights to virtual learning] are likely to take more students out of classrooms and increase disciplinary disparities among students of color, says Cheryl Hayes, a juvenile justice reform advocate with A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS), a network of metro churches and community groups that runs a mediation program in the district….
Community volunteers [from AMOS] launched the Let's Talk program in three district middle schools eight years ago with one key objective: fix a system that disproportionately disciplines students of color, Hayes, who's also a coordinator for the program, tells Axios.
The district has since expanded the program to nearly all of its 12 middle schools...
Let's Talk is run by AMOS, a network of dozens of metro churches, neighborhood groups and community organizations.
The program helps students resolve conflicts peacefully, and ultimately aims to disrupt the "school-to-prison pipeline" — the link between punishments and the criminal justice system.
Inspiration for the restorative justice program came from "The New Jim Crow," a book about the U.S. legal system and how it has led to the mass incarceration of Black men, Hayes says.
What they do: Volunteer mediators, such as retired judges, go into schools to help resolve student conflicts or other disciplinary issues through discussion.
Oftentimes, mediators help students work through home-life traumas that are a factor in problems surfacing at school, Hayes says.
Program facilitators also assist with cultural awareness training among district educators to help improve teaching and disciplinary practices.
What they're saying: Hayes says organizers believe Let's Talk is a factor in why disciplinary referrals — generally those involving assaults or weapons — were down in grades 6-8 during the first four months of this school year [as reported by Axios, February 2022].
[Photo credit: Let's Talk via Axios]
Valley Interfaith Project (VIP), along with allied organizations, temporarily averted a $1 billion funding crisis for Arizona public schools. A decades-old spending limit would have required school districts to abide by 1980 spending levels without legislative action. Normally, the legislature would vote to override the limit as a routine procedure. However, partisan brinkmanship, amidst a closely divided legislature, led to individual legislators withholding their votes.
While school district budgets were based on funding that the Legislature had approved last year, this arbitrary spending limit, if left unchecked, would have resulted in massive budget cuts as soon as April 1, 2022. The cuts would have amounted to $1.2 billion statewide, resulting in widespread layoffs or school closures.
VIP leaders met with individual legislators and mobilized a flood of constituent phone calls in key areas. On February 21st, only one week before the statutory deadline, the Senate followed the House's lead and voted to allow school districts to exceed the arbitrary spending limit for the current school year.
While leaders celebrated the last-minute fix, the long-term outlook has Arizona revisiting this crisis every year until voters can repeal the outdated spending limit. VIP leaders hosted a leaders assembly with two senators to explore a more permanent resolution.
[In photo: Revs. Brooke Isingoma and Martha Seaman discuss the spending limit with State Senators Tyler Pace and Sean Bowie.]
"Arizona Senate Votes to Raise Education Spending Limit, Avoiding Big School Funding Cuts," Arizona Republic [pdf]
Following an opposition campaign by Texas IAF organizations, Comptroller Glenn Hegar is backing away from his proposal to gut Chapter 313 reporting and accountability requirements in the program’s final year of existence. Hegar signaled the change Friday after significant pushback by Chapter 313 critics, including a press conference held by Texas IAF organizations in December, and a barrage of public comments submitted to his office against the proposal, with the largest portion coming from Texas IAF leaders.
During the 2021 Legislative Session, the Texas IAF, along with allies, stopped the reauthorization of Chapter 313, the State’s largest corporate tax subsidy program. Though the current program, which costs taxpayers $1-2 Billion per year, is set to expire in December of 2022, Comptroller Hegar had proposed in November to reduce the reporting requirements on jobs, wages, and overall costs to taxpayers.
“Comptroller Hegar has recognized the voices of voters from across the political spectrum, including our organizations, and now says the data we are concerned will continue to be available,” said Bob Fleming, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization, the IAF affiliate in Houston. “However, we remain vigilant because he says the rules will still be revised and made ‘more efficient’. Given the history of this failed and discontinued program, we need even more transparency and accountability, not less.”
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle]
Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Press Release