Letter to the Editor

Re: “Perry praises Texas school funding as 'phenomenal'” , Fort Worth Star Telegram - January 9, 2011

Gov. Rick Perry recently described the growth in public education spending over the last decade as “phenomenal.” Gov. Perry is right. Data from the Comptroller of Public Accounts show that the state spent $8,782 per student in the 2001-02 school year, compared to $11,218 in the 2010-11 school year. That’s a 28 percent increase per student. Comptroller data also show that this increase is over and above the rate of inflation during the same period.

This presentation, which was created by the Education Resource Group, provides data that is integral to breaking down the myth that more resources translates into higher educational outcomes. In fact, the illustration shows that many schools achieve remarkable outcomes with relatively few resources (high value districts), while far too many districts consume outsized resources while producing poor educational outcomes (low value districts). See the case study that begins on slide 22 for an interesting illustration on efficiency. View the presentation.

Public education remains the top spending priority for state dollars in the current budget, accounting for 41.5 percent of all state 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.

James W. Guthrie, George W. Bush Presidential Center

Dr. James Guthrie is senior fellow director of Education Policy Studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas and a professor at the SMU Annette Simmons School of Education. In addition to his academic career, he has been a high school principal and elected school board member.

In a speech Nov. 19 in Louisville, Bill Gates exhorted America’s chief state school officers to focus spending on instruction and squeeze far greater efficiency out of their education budgets. “Our best chance to change budgets starts now,” he said. “Your appropriations committees will see the state school budgets and ask you to show them an easy way out. I think you can tell them, ‘There is a way out, but it’s not easy.’”

The truth is, we can reduce school budgets and simultaneously pursue high standards, but to accomplish these goals we have to dispel some pervasive myths. Here are the major ones…and the facts that refute them:

State spending on public education has grown far more than any other area of state spending since 2002-2003, as illustrated by chart one below.

Growth by Article

Under CSHB 1, the draft budget for 2012-2013, education will account for 56.1 percent of all state spending, the single largest category, as illustrated by the chart below.

General Revenue

As legislators continue to discuss balancing the budget without raising taxes, it is timely to address several issues specific to public education that could assist policy makers during these discussions. This TCCRI briefing paper provides a detailed overview of public education spending.

Spending reductions are necessary in the light of the state’s budget situation, and these reductions should be primarily targeted at non-teaching positions and non-essential expenditures so that the classroom educators can continue to meet the needs of Texas school children.

As one of many budget proposals in the TCCRI report Blueprint for a Balanced Budget, the following illustrates the potential savings from rolling back non-teaching positions in public schools to 2004-2005 levels.

2004-05 Total Non-Teaching Staff 291,081.37
2009-10 Total Non-Teaching Staff 328,195.47
Potential savings if non-teaching staff were reduced to 2004-05 level $1,527,894,051.07

(Source: Texas Education Agency)

Budget Cuts:

• School districts were not part of the 5% or 2.5% reductions ordered by leaders in the Texas Capitol during the current two-year budget. To date, no reduction in state funding to public schools has been made. Attributing current layoffs to state funding is disingenuous.

• Talk of teacher layoffs is unwarranted and premature. The state has not passed a final budget and the Governor and Legislature are working to craft a solution that will preserve as many teaching positions as possible.

Because close to half of school employees are not classroom teachers, these numbers underscore the point that efficiencies must be found in the administration of Texas’ public school system.

Teachers should be the core of the educational system, yet they currently account for barely half of all public school system employees:

To put these figures into perspective, Texas school districts have one employee for every 7.3 students, and one classroom teacher for every 14.5 students. Both of these figure stand in stark contrast to the 22:1 teacher/student ratio that is mandated for all classes in kindergarten through to the fourth grade.

In addition, the Legislative Budget Board reports that, among the 15 most-populous states, Texas has the highest per capita number of state and local government employees in elementary and secondary schools.