Local News

Educators concerned about “school choice” bill

The Texas Senate recently passed a scaled-back version of Senate Bill 3, the “school choice” bill which has been one of the most divisive issues in the state this legislative session.

Changes were made to the bill right up until its passage in the Senate as its author, Senator Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, tried to gather the votes to pass it. It was received by the House of Representatives Monday, April 3.

The proposal to reroute funding from public schools to private education and home schooling has created special concerns in rural areas.

Under the proposal, parents would have access to online accounts of public money to pay for private school tuition and other expenses.

The scaled-down version of the bill would cap the size of an education savings account by family income, while the original version would have allowed families of any income to participate.

The proposal would also create a tax credit scholarship program allowing businesses to credit their insurance premium taxes in exchange for donations to approved scholarship organizations.

Changes to the bill would cap that program at $25 million in the next fiscal year rather than $100 million as in the original version.

The bill’s proponents agreed to the changes following the push back from rural legislators and their constituents.

Under the revised bill, the changes would only apply to counties with populations greater than 285,000 unless five percent of registered voters petition for access.

Opponents of the bill, which include many rural educators, have expressed concerns about draining tax funding from already underfunded public schools.

Whitney ISD Superintendent Gene Solis has expressed his opposition, saying that he sees the bill as a way to divert money from public schools.

Solis said that the Texas Constitution is clear on the mission of the state to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of ‘public free schools.’

“This is another political ploy to undermine our public schools, even though evidence clearly shows that when comparing apples to apples, public school kids out perform their counterparts in private schools,” Solis said.

“Generally speaking, these vouchers only benefit people who can afford private schools in the first place,” he added.

As an example, Solis said that a $5,500 voucher to attend a private school where tuition costs $30,000 does not go very far for those who don’t have the extra money.

“But it does give the folks who can afford the rest of the tuition a $5,500 credit,” he said. “How fair is that?”

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has been a supporter of the bill, issued a statement following its passage in the Senate:

“School choice is the civil rights issue of our time. Texas is one of 20 states that does not have a school choice program and Senate Bill 3 will finally change that.

“Senate Bill 3 will provide educational options to almost 4 million students, including 134,441 who are currently in failing schools,” he said.

“ESA’s will provide parents with funds to pay for the educational needs of their child, including private school tuition, tutoring and online courses. Tax Credit Scholarships also provide financial assistance to parents as well as up to $500 for academic support in a public school. Both programs make disabled students a priority,” Patrick added.

The bill’s prospects as it moves on to the House of Representatives looks less promising to its supporters, as House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said it will die in that legislative body.

Hill County Jail earns Certificate of Compliance

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards recently acknowledged the Hill County Sheriff’s Office with a Certificate of Compliance for the county jail.

After an inspection of the facility at the end of March, an inspector determined that the facility was in compliance with jail standards.

In a letter to Sheriff Rodney Watson, Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Brandon Wood wrote, “The Certificate of Compliance demonstrates your outstanding leadership and the diligent work of your staff in complying with minimal jail standards.

“In addition, this achievement is a direct result of your office’s commitment to excellence and is an example of dedication and professionalism in maintaining a safe, secure and sanitary facility.”

Wood also recognized the commissioners’ court for its support, saying that essential budgetary support for jail operations is also imperative to achieving compliance.

“The citizens of Hill County should be proud of your combined efforts, as is the Texas Commission on Jail Standards,” Wood said.

Tax rendition deadline next Monday

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar reminds business owners that Monday, April 17, is the deadline for filing property tax renditions with their county appraisal districts.

A rendition is a list of the taxable inventory, furniture and fixtures, machinery, equipment and other property owned or managed as of January 1 of each year. The appraisal district may use the information to set property values.

Rendition allows property owners to record their opinion of their property’s value and ensures that the appraisal district notifies them before changing its recorded value.

Exempt property, such as church property and equipment used for farming, is not subject to rendition.

Hegar also reminds owners whose property was damaged by storm, flood or fire last year that they may file a special decreased-value report that could lower their final tax bills for 2017.

Property owners have until Monday, April 17, to file the decreased-value report, which indicates their property’s condition on January 1, 2017.

Rendition forms and decreased-value report forms are available from county appraisal district offices statewide and can be downloaded from the comptroller’s property tax forms web page.

For more information about property rendition, deadline extensions, penalties and rendition forms, taxpayers may contact the comptroller’s Property Tax Assistance Division at 1-800-252-9121 (press 2 to access the menu and then press 1 to contact the Information Services Team).

Taxpayers may also visit the website comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/property-tax for more information.

Tax deadline nears, IRS offers filing tips

As the Tuesday, April 18, income tax filing deadline approaches, millions of taxpayers may be rushing to complete their taxes and many may realize that they’re going to need more time.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) encourages taxpayers to take extra time to complete their tax return if needed.

Rushing to complete a tax return at the last minute can result in mistakes. Making a mistake on a tax return means it will likely take longer for the IRS to process it. That could delay a tax refund.

The IRS encourages taxpayers to avoid many common errors by filing electronically, which it says is the most accurate way to file your tax return.

Seven out of ten taxpayers can use IRS Free File software at no cost.

The following are helpful tips from the IRS to help taxpayers avoid common tax-filing errors:

File electronically. Filing electronically, whether through e-file or IRS Free File, vastly reduces tax return errors, as the tax software does the calculations, flags common errors and prompts taxpayers for missing information.

Mail a paper return to the right address. Paper filers should check IRS.gov or their tax form instructions for the appropriate address where to file to avoid processing delays.

Take a close look at the tax tables. When figuring tax using the tax tables, taxpayers should be sure to use the correct column for the filing status claimed.

Fill in all requested information clearly. When entering information on the tax return, including Social Security numbers, take the time to be sure it is accurate and easy to read. Also, check only one filing status and the appropriate exemption boxes.

Review all figures. While software catches and prevents many errors on e-file returns, math errors remain common on paper returns.

Get the right routing and account numbers. Requesting direct deposit of a federal tax refund into one, two or even three accounts is convenient and allows the taxpayer access to their money faster. Make sure the financial institution routing and account numbers entered on the return are accurate. Incorrect numbers can cause a refund to be delayed or deposited into the wrong account.

Sign and date the return. If filing a joint return, both spouses must sign and date the return. When filing an individual tax return electronically, taxpayers must electronically sign the tax return using a personal identification number (PIN): either the Self-Select PIN or the Practitioner PIN method.

Attach all required forms. Paper filers need to attach W-2s and other forms to the front of their returns that reflect tax withholding. If requesting a payment agreement with the IRS, also attach Form 9465 to the front of the return. Attach all other necessary schedules and forms to the upper right-hand corner of the tax form in the order shown in the instructions.

Keep a copy of the return. Once ready to be filed, taxpayers should make a copy of their signed return and all schedules for their records.

Request a filing extension. For taxpayers who cannot meet the April 18 deadline, requesting a filing extension is easy and will prevent late-filing penalties. Either use Free File or Form 4868. But keep in mind that while an extension grants additional time to file, tax payments are still due on April 18.

Owe tax? If so, a number of e-payment options are available. Or send a check or money order payable to the “U.S. Treasury.”

Taxpayers may find additional help and resources on IRS.gov, including the IRS Services Guide.

Felony arrest made by Hill County S.O.

The Hill County Sheriff’s Office made a felony arrest at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 5.

According to reports, authorities made contact with a 44-year-old Waco man during a traffic stop on Highway 174 north of Blum.

While searching the vehicle, deputies located a small amount of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

The suspect was detained for possession of a controlled substance and transported to the Hill County Law Enforcement Center.

Justice of the Peace Shane Brassell set bond at $5,000 on Gregory Goddard.

Deputy Travis Thurston made the arrest.

Disturbance leads to felony arrest

A felony arrest was made by the Hill County Sheriff’s Office at 3:21 p.m. Saturday, April 1.

Reports indicated that authorities were called to a residence on HCR 1450 North south of Covington in reference to a disturbance.

Deputies made contact with a 58-year-old Covington woman who allegedly assaulted a 38-year-old Bay Cliff woman and pointed a shotgun up to a 28-year-old Covington man.

The woman was detained for aggravated assault to a family member with a deadly weapon and assault causing bodily injury to a family member.

Bond was set at $5,000 on Kristine Haag by Justice of the Peace Shane Brassell.

Making the arrest was Sergeant Adam Tovar.

FBC music minister to visit Ukraine

Randy Hayes, minister of music at First Baptist Church of Whitney, will be participating in 10 concerts in eight cities throughout eastern Ukraine with the Singing Men of Texas.

The Singing Men of Texas is a statewide choral group consisting of six chapters.

The local North Central Chapter (SMONCT) is made up of approximately 150 ministers of music whose churches are members of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Since 2010, SMONCT has traveled several times to minister to the people of Ukraine.

The Singing Men will be collaborating with Michael Gott Ministries of Keller.

Hayes has been with this organization for a little over a year and says he is very blessed to have this mission trip opportunity.

“Thank you to First Baptist Church of Whitney and its members for their generous donations and sponsorship,” Hayes said.

Hayes will be traveling with the group from April 17-28.

“Prayers for a safe and successful trip are coveted and greatly appreciated,” he said.