Facts and insights about Texas public schools

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Don’t Believe the Hype about Inefficient Spending

A new commentary in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune, claims that the Texas school finance system is on life support, but more state funding for public schools isn’t the cure to the problem.

The commentary contends that schools hire inefficiently. According to data from the Texas Education Agency, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The state’s most recent Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas ratings showed that more than 98 percent of Texas school districts have a superior financial rating, meaning that they provide the “maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes.”

The authors argue that the answer is switching from the current system of school finance to one where state money follows the student. In her commentary in the March issue of Texas Lone Star magazine, Karen Strong, TASB’s associate executive director of Communications and Public Relations, debunks the idea that having a taxpayer’s dollars follow their child is a realistic (or more efficient) solution to our school finance problems.

In 2016, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the Texas’ public school finance system is constitutional, but there is no question that Texas districts are struggling to make do. A recent U.S. News and World Report story ranks Texas 36th nationwide in classroom spending ($2,555 less per student than the national average).

Additional state funding would certainly help take the pressure off of local property taxpayers, who have paid an increasing share of the education tab for more than a decade.

August 17, 2017

Vast Majority of Districts Meet State Accountability Standards

Approximately 95 percent of Texas public school districts and charters met the state’s accountability standards, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) (1,146 districts and charters out of a total of 1,203). The number of districts with “improvement required” ratings continued to decline.

The number of individual campuses that met state standards increased again this year and the number of campuses requiring improvement continued to decline.

In addition, more than 400 campuses earned all seven academic distinction designations:

  • Academic Achievement in English Language Arts/Reading
  • Academic Achievement in Mathematics
  • Academic Achievement in Science
  • Academic Achievement in Social Studies
  • Top 25 Percent: Student Progress
  • Top 25 Percent: Closing Performance Gaps
  • Postsecondary Readiness

View the 2017 accountability news releases on the TEA Website. You can search for district and campus ratings here.

August 16, 2017

School Funding Bills Offer Some Help to Texas Districts

It’s no secret that Texas has a longstanding problem funding education. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board called on the Texas Legislature to approve two special session bills, House Bill 21 and House Bill 30, which combined would provide an additional $1.8 billion for public schools.

On their own, the bills are far from the overhaul of school finance that the Texas Supreme Court called for when it ruled in May 2016 that the school finance system was constitutional, though plagued with problems. However, it would allow a state increase of approximately $200 in per-pupil funding.

The mechanism for funding the increase has been criticized. The editorial board writes, “It’s hardly ideal, but the Senate has failed to offer something better.”

With regard to Senate Bill 16, which would create a commission to study the school finance system, the editorial says, “Another study of school financing is not necessary. We need action.”

Read “House school funding bill isn’t great, but we’ll take it” in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

August 11, 2017

If Education is a Priority, How Did This Happen?

Retired Fredricksburg Teacher Jackie Schandua wrote an editorial noting that with every meeting of the Texas Legislature, the message coming from Austin has been that education is a priority. Her personal experience challenges that claim.

When she began teaching in 1972, the majority of her salary was paid by the state. By the time she retired (2009), the majority was paid by the school district. She saw teachers leave the profession for better paying jobs and maintains that health insurance and retirement benefits for Texas teachers lag behind those provided to state employees.

She notes that when a local representative is invited to speak, he maintains that we do not have a funding problem but rather a spending problem, despite evidence to the contrary. “He also claimed that the Legislature acts slowly and right he is. I spent 37 years at FHS, and the burden of paying for education has steadily shifted from state to local. How many more decades should we wait to see the trend reverse?” Schandua writes.

Read, “Is Education Really a Priority?” by Jackie Schandua in the Fredricksburg Standard Radio Post.

August 10, 2017

Author of Bill Creating “Rainy Day Fund” Says It’s Time to Use It

The Legislature is currently grappling with the possibility of using $1.8 billion of the “Rainy Day” fund’s $12 billion balance to provide additional funding for public schools. Those opposed to using the fund maintain that it’s reserved for “one-time” expenditures. Or that it shouldn’t be touched because it improves the state’s credit rating. Or that it was meant to help with natural disasters.

Former Texas Legislator Paul Colbert was the author of the bill that created the fund. He wrote about its original intent in a recent commentary:

“The reason we created the fund was to flatten out the available revenue stream from the up-and-down swings of the economy so that constant levels of services could be provided, including covering higher costs as those needing or qualifying for government services increase.

“Anyone who tells you different is not an originalist. They are merely reinterpreting the law to mold it to their own interests or ideologies. With a balance in the Fund approaching $12 billion, let’s use our savings for their intended purpose.”

Read “Original intent and the Texas Rainy Day Fund” in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.

August 8, 2017

Huberty: Time to Take the First Step on School Finance

House Public Education Committee Dan Huberty talked about House Bill 21 in an interview with Fox 26 Houston. The bill, up for consideration in the Texas Legislature’s special session, would provide an additional $1.8 billion in funding for public schools.

Huberty said he’s not opposed to another bill (Senate Bill 16) that calls for a committee to study the state’s school finance system. “We don’t need to study it one more time to take the first step,”Huberty said. “We may have a lawful system, but it’s completely awful.”

August 7, 2017

Proposed Legislation Doesn’t Match Facts about Schools

Lytle ISD School Board Member Nan Boyd has a message for legislators: know the operational challenges public schools deal with when you set a legislative agenda.

Lytle ISD is one of many Texas school districts trying to accomplish much with little in the way of resources. Boyd objects to the notion that schools have enough money, they just need to use it more wisely.

“We are at the point where the saying ‘you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip’ is real,” Boyd writes. The district’s fund balance is dwindling and unfunded mandates like teacher pay raises (without state funds to pay for them) would decimate the budget. Lytle ISD has increased teacher pay and has also cut positions to keep the budget balanced. “What do we do when we’ve cut back all that we can?” Boyd asks.

She calls on legislators to provide public schools with adequate and equitable funding. That would make state-mandated teacher pay increases unnecessary.

Read her commentary in the Austin American-Statesman.

July 31, 2017

Funding Public Schools Should Be the Top Priority

One of the items on the call in the special session of the Texas Legislature is teacher pay raises. Christy Rome, executive director of the Texas School Coalition, said the real goal should be to fund public schools and that the data used to call for pay raises doesn’t provide a true picture of teacher pay.

“While some state leaders have used data to argue that only a small percentage of overall education funding is used for teacher salaries, such figures can only be derived when combining both higher education and public education spending and counting debt and capital outlay in addition to maintenance and operations costs,” Rome says. Since public schools can only pay for teacher salaries through maintenance and operations spending, she argues that rolling other things into that calculation is “unfair and inaccurate.”

Read “Our priority must be new funding for schools,” in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.

July 27, 2017

SB 1 Interferes with Local Control

Former State Representative Jim Keffer called Senate Bill 1, the property tax bill being debated in the special session of the Texas Legislature, a bad bill that interferes in community choices made by local elected officials around the state. The bill would cap property tax increases and prevent local governments from meeting the needs of their community.

“The real way to reduce property taxes is for the state to invest more in public education, lowering schools’ reliance on local property taxpayers,” Keffer wrote.

Read “Hiding a real problem behind a bogus property tax reform,” by Keffer in TribTalk, a publication of the Texas Tribune.

July 25, 2017

Don’t Be Fooled by What You Hear about Public Ed

A recent opinion piece featured in the “TribTalk” section of the Texas Tribune attempts to justify the expense of the current special session of the Texas Legislature on many fronts, education being one.

The article contends that, “Taxpayers would also benefit from the introduction of school choice. Our public schools are highly inefficient, spending almost $13,000 per student with dropout rates from 14 to 25 percent and with only 18 percent of graduates meeting the SAT or ACT college-readiness standards…”

The notion that schools are “highly inefficient” is directly disproven by the data from the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) collected by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The 2015–16 ratings show public school districts do an excellent job of managing district financial resources to maximize allocations for direct instructional purposes. Ninety-eight percent of Texas school districts received superior ratings (A’s) and another 1.56 percent received a rating of above standard achievement (B’s).

The article argues that schools spend almost $13,000 per student. According to the National Education Association (NEA), Texas spent an average of $9,559 per student in 2014–15 and ranks 38th among states in per-pupil spending. The national average was $12,061.

TEA’s dropout data shows Texas does a good job of keeping kids in school. Also, according to governing.com, only Iowa and Alabama have higher graduation rates for all students (see graduation rates by state). Texas has the highest graduation rate for low-income students.

Texas has some ground to gain in meeting college readiness standards, but circumstances are not as dire as the article would like folks to believe. Texas Higher Ed Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes says 38 percent of high school graduates are ready to attend college with no remediation in their freshman year (see “Education Officials Point Fingers over College Readiness” by Kiah Collier in the Texas Tribune), more than double the number offered in the article.

In short, it’s important to verify the facts about Texas public schools.

July 21, 2017