Shared from the 9/14/2023 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Recommended votes on ballot propositions


Chancellor Renu Khator, shown at the 2022 NCAA South Region men’s basketball final, spent years building up the University of Houston’s reputation.

Brett Coomer/ Staff file photo

Proposition 2, Child care facilities – For

The COVID-19 pandemic decimated plenty of businesses across Texas, but it was particularly cruel for child care providers.

At the outset of the pandemic, the state ordered day cares to drop to 50 percent capacity, putting a major dent in their income.

By August 2020, 25% of all child care centers closed and child care deserts across Texas increased by 50%. There was a pronounced impact on neighborhoods of color, where child care centers were twice as likely to have extended or permanent closures.

When Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in 2020 and the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in 2021, it was like money raining down from the sky for struggling child care providers.

That windfall of federal aid allowed the Texas Workforce Commission to provide $34.6 billion to thousands of child care programs to keep them afloat.

Most of those funds have gone toward child care financial assistance for parents, which is critical in a state where child care costs for just one infant account for as much as 16% of a median family’s income.

With at least some of the federal funding set to expire in November, many child care providers will once again be in dire financial straits.

Texas voters will have a chance to provide a lifeline of sorts to at least some child care programs through Proposition 2, a constitutional amendment that would allow counties or municipalities to authorize a property tax exemption on all or part of the appraised value of property that houses child care centers.

Giving property tax cuts to child care centers is an imperfect solution, but a crucial one nonetheless. Most child care centers in Texas don’t own their facilities, instead renting space in a larger building or strip mall, according to Melanie Johnson, CEO of the Collaborative for Children, a nonprofit providing child care and referral services in the Houston region.

Johnson told the editorial board that other than staffing, rent is often the biggest expense for child care programs.

As a result, the best we can hope for the property tax exemption is that it will have a trickle-down effect: landlords who claim the property tax cut may pass some of those savings on to child care provider tenants in the form of lower rents. The exemption would also give child care providers leverage in negotiating leases.

If they know a property tax exemption is available for potential landlords, they can cite that to negotiate an affordable rent.

For child care centers that do own their buildings, a property tax exemption would allow them to reinvest in improving staff salaries — the average child care worker in Texas makes $28,000 a year — and the overall quality of care.

In a perfect world, the Legislature would’ve stepped up and given direct aid to child care providers.

Until the federal or state government steps up, Proposition 2 could be among the only mechanisms for a county to give at least some relief to struggling child care providers.

We urge Texans to vote “for” this amendment.

Proposition 5, Texas University Fund — For

The first home of the University of Houston, when it was founded in 1927, was the San Jacinto High School campus. Decades later, even with a student body in the tens of thousands, UH was still referred to as “Cougar High.”

The name stuck and it carried the sting of derision because, in all honesty, the school wasn’t all that great. Acceptance standards and graduation rates were low. Few students lived on campus. The university long had centers of excellence and star faculty, but nothing close to the breadth and depth of the University of Texas and Texas A&M, which are the only top 50 public universities in the state. Perhaps UH hit its nadir 22 years ago after Tropical Storm Allison flooded much of the campus. Students had to navigate piles of debris to find classes that had been moved into temporary trailers. UH seemed destined to remain an overgrown “Couger High” forever, no matter the protestation of its backers.

So much has changed in the 15 years since Renu Khator became UH’s president. She set a clear goal for Tier 1 status and worked toward it step by step, developing support from donors and state leaders.

In fundraising, it can take years of building up trust before a big ask succeeds, and that’s what Khator accomplished. It took nearly 100 years for UH to accumulate a $1 billion endowment but that saved up fund could more than double overnight this fall.

The Legislature budgeted nearly $4 billion for a new endowment that would include UH, Texas Tech, University of North Texas and Texas State University. Before UH can claim its share, though, voters have to approve a constitutional amendment establishing the Texas University Fund.

We can’t stress enough how transformational this investment will be, not just for UH, but for our city. The continued prosperity of Houston depends on cutting edge research and an educated workforce.

Consider that Matt Mullenweg started WordPress, the platform used by close to half of the top 10 thousand websites, while a student at UH. Tilman Fertitta studied there as well, though like many future billionaires, he dropped out.

Leaders from Texas Southern University have questioned why the school wasn’t included in the new fund. They’re right to point out long-standing inequities in funding to the historically Black school. While TSU is nowhere close to meeting the criteria to qualify for the proposed endowment intended for competitive research universities, how are they to catch up without an investment by the state? They can look at the path of UH, their neighbor just across Scott Street, as a template. Fifteen years ago, it would be hard to imagine UH where it is today. We hope to be able to say the same of TSU in upcoming years. Boston is known for an abundance of top-notch universities. Why not Houston?

As we’ve written before, UH has worked hard to earn Texas’ respect. Vote “for” the proposed $1 billion endowment boost.

Child care and university endowments deserve approval.

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