Inefficiency dogs Texas schools as classes resume

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By   /   August 25, 2015  /   8 Comments

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DOES NOT COMPUTE: The claim that Texas school funding is inadequate is undercut by financial data that show how the money is actually spent.

 

By Kenric Ward | Texas Watchdog.org

In a Texas Supreme Court showdown, school-reform groups are escalating the fight over education financing. Countering teacher-union claims that state funding formulas are inadequate, reformers say the system is demonstrably inefficient.

Pointing to large and growing diversions of instructional money, reformers contend that Texas schools are failing students.

“We are arguing that the system is not efficient — a term that is in the state constitution,” says Randan Steinhauser, a leader in the school-reform movement. “It’s not fiscally efficient and it’s not adequately educating students.”

Court briefs reviewed by Watchdog.org note that:

  • Less than half of total school revenue ($50 billion) is actually spent on instruction ($24 billion).
  • Teachers make an average of $8,859 less than support staff (not including administrators).
  • Texas school districts have a fund balance exceeding $9.5 billion.
  • From fiscal 1992 to fiscal 2009, Texas’ student population increased 3 percent while school district administrators and other non-teaching staff grew 172 percent.

“Public schools in Texas would have saved almost $6.4 billion if they had not increased the employment of administrators and other non-teaching staff more than the increase in students,” says Peggy Venable, policy and legislative director at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation of Texas.

Venable adds that the cost of lawsuits is also siphoning public funds. She conservatively estimated that $50 million in legal fees have been spent by districts to sue, repeatedly, over funding.

The efficiency argument is gathering steam in advance of the Supreme Court’s scheduled Sept. 1 hearing. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn — a former state attorney general and Supreme Court justice — and former Sen. Phil Gramm are filing supportive briefs with the high court.

Pastors of some of the largest congregations in the state are urging the court to add private school vouchers to address the inefficiency issue. They say per-pupil funding should go with the child to foster choice in education — not to top-heavy government bureaucracies.

Instead of going to classrooms, “money is lining the pockets of superintendents,” Steinhauser said.

RELATED: Three Texas districts mired in fiscal scandals

Charter school advocates are also weighing in, charging that “artificial limits” on the independently operated, publicly funded campuses restrict educational opportunities for Texas children.

“Charter school funding is inequitable,” says Steinhauser. “That’s part of the conversation.”

Even so, lesser-funded charter schools routinely outperform their conventional counterparts.

Though accounting for only 600 of Texas’ 8,574 public schools, 18 charters earned the state’s top five-star academic rating. Just 28 conventional schools scored that high.

Kenric Ward writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Contact him at kward@watchdog.org.

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