Public education remains the top spending priority for state dollars in the current budget, accounting for 41.5 percent of all state General Revenue spending. Public education is the single-largest spending category of state dollars, by more than $10 billion. Over the last ten years, total education spending – including federal, state and local funds – has nearly doubled, growing faster than enrollment growth and inflation, according to a report by the Comptroller of Public Accounts.
In addition to the increases in direct expenditures, school debt is approaching crisis levels: currently, taxpayers owe $63.6 billion in public school bond debt, which amounts to $13,530 for every student in a school with debt. By comparison, 2011 public education expenditures per pupil total $11,218. According to the Comptroller, from 2001 to 2011, public school districts' total debt outstanding rose by 155.2 percent, far more than the increase in inflation (26.5 percent) and enrollment growth (21 percent).
Teachers and students are the core of the education system, yet barely more than 50% of public school employees are classroom teachers. As public education spending increases, a huge portion of tax dollars – property taxes and sales taxes -- are being used for something other than teaching and learning, most dramatically represented by two non-classroom items: superintendent pay and benefits, which go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year; and palatial facilities, including football stadiums and video scoreboards that cost millions and add to a growing debt problem.
That must change. The primary focus of Texas' system of public education must be classroom teaching and learning, not the wide array of non-classroom expenditures.
It is incumbent on all stakeholders to refocus public education on its core mission. Reducing the extraordinary costs of educational bureaucracy must be the first step toward improving our public education system. We have an opportunity to increase productivity and efficiency, all with the goal of increasing academic performance of students.