Debunking the Myth: The Real Story of Texas School Funding

The Myth

The myth that Texas government schools are grossly underfunded persists. However, as detailed below, Texas continues to increase funding for government schools even beyond the rate of student enrollment.

Purveyors of the Myth

Recently, State Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) penned a letter, joined by 38 of his Democratic colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives, urging Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) to “immediately call a special session to pass an education funding package to address the school budget crisis unfolding statewide.” You might recall that the Texas Legislature was called into four special legislative sessions in 2023, where one of the unsuccessful topics discussed was education freedom, specifically the provision of education savings accounts for all Texas schoolchildren.

Many of the signers of Rosenthal’s letter were quick to take to social media to promote their support, citing statements like, “Since 2019 [Texas] has failed to improve school funding,” or “[Texas] schools are struggling due to years of underfunding, inflation, and unfunded mandates,” or “we have $5 billion appropriated and unspent for public education in the current state budget, plus a surplus of $18 billion that is projected to grow to $21.3 billion by next session” to address the perceived crisis.

State Rep. Julie Johnson
(D-Farmers Branch)

State Rep. Mihaela Plesa
(D-Dallas)

State Rep. Christina Morales
(D-Houston)

Governor Abbott responded shortly thereafter with a letter highlighting the fact that all the signers of Rosenthal’s letter voted against a “comprehensive education package” [HB 1 in 88(4)], authored by State Rep. Brad Buckley (R-Salado), who also serves as Chairman of the House Public Education Committee. Abbott indicated that Buckley’s legislation “would have provided $6 billion for additional public school funding, teacher pay raises, and school safety measures,” including “a provision that expands school choice for every Texas family.” Abbott also noted “several reasons why some public schools are facing budget shortfalls,” including the extraordinary funding from the federal government under the guise of COVID recovery.

Rosenthal and the signers of his letter are not alone in their criticism of ongoing issues with government school funding. It has become a perennial issue while simultaneously being a pernicious myth. More often than not, those who support throwing even more money toward the government school system only account for what is known as the Basic Allotment (or only a portion of what the state of Texas spends). It is a deception.

The Reality

The reality is that, collectively, school districts misallocate resources and lack accountability. This misallocation proves to be an investment by taxpayers that increasingly does not pay dividends. Money spent on government schools has largely increased the growth of administration and bureaucracy, as opposed to directly supporting the student.

Vance Ginn, a Texas Policy Research Initiative board member, remarked,

“Texans demand improvements in education across the great state of Texas. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with the flawed monopoly of the government school system despite hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent over time and historic amounts spent today. We must look hard at how we fund education in Texas to get improved outcomes for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers. By understanding the facts on the ground, we can better find a path to fund students instead of systems at a more affordable cost to taxpayers. More specifically, Texas can improve education by empowering parents to meet the needs of each of their unique kids through universal school choice.”

Education & Per Student Spending (The Last Decade)

As seen in Table 1, overall spending in Texas has increased annually, contributing to an increase of 53% over the last decade, even though student enrollment has only increased by about 5.5%, as seen in Table 2. Those funding increases have translated to more money per student, increasing by nearly 45% in the last decade. These increases compare with just a 23.6% increase in CPI inflation over that period.

Table 1 – Education & Per Student Spending

School Year Total Public Education Spending % Increase Per Student Spending % Increase
2014-15 $60,386,702,350 - $11,590 -
2015-16 $64,061,068,212 6.08% $12,130 4.66%
2016-17 $67,475,719,295 5.33% $12,634 4.15%
2017-18 $69,252,688,668 2.63% $12,861 1.80%
2018-19 $70,993,369,584 2.51% $13,108 1.92%
2019-20 $77,019,760,233 8.49% $14,058 7.25%
2020-21 $79,294,505,532 2.95% $14,797 5.26%
2021-22 $84,854,165,916 7.01% $15,708 6.16%
2022-23 $92,414,047,078 8.91% $16,792 6.90%
Overall % Change 53.04% 44.88%

Source(s): Texas Education Agency (TEA) PEIMS District Financial Actual Reports, Grand Total: Operating and Non-Operating Expenditures by Object

Growth of Student Enrollment vs. Teachers vs. Administration & Support Staff

In total, the increase in teaching staff, support staff, and administrative staff has far outpaced student enrollment growth. As seen in Table 2 below, administrative staff is the fastest-growing, while teachers have made up a smaller percentage of the overall school staff in the last decade. This phenomenon cannot go unnoticed as it contributes to the lack of money going into the classroom where the most education happens. Many of these administrators and support staff are hired because of federal, state, and local requirements, which do little to nothing to improve education for students but rather help adhere to excessive, burdensome rules and regulations.

Table 2 – Student Enrollment Compared to Teachers, Administration, & Support Staff

School Year Total Students % Increase Total Teachers (FTE) % Increase Total Support Staff % Increase Total Administrative Staff % Increase Teacher % of Total Staff
2014-15 5,232,065 - 342,257 - 66,076 - 26,800 - 50.74%
2015-16 5,299,728 1.29% 347,328 1.48% 68,699 3.97% 27,627 3.09% 50.37%
2016-17 5,359,127 1.12% 352,808 1.58% 71,342 3.85% 28,214 2.12% 49.95%
2017-18 5,385,012 0.48% 356,909 1.16% 70,570 -1.08% 29,648 5.08% 50.03%
2018-19 5,416,400 0.58% 358,525 0.45% 73,737 4.49% 30,194 1.84% 49.73%
2019-20 5,479,173 1.16% 363,185 1.30% 75,649 2.59% 30,420 0.75% 49.33%
2020-21 5,359,040 -2.19% 369,461 1.73% 79,742 5.41% 31,151 2.40% 49.47%
2021-22 5,402,928 0.82% 369,762 0.08% 83,614 4.86% 30,859 -0.94% 49.08%
2022-23 5,518,432 2.14% 371,802 0.55% 83,889 0.33% 34,912 13.13% 48.58%
Overall % Change 5.47% 8.63% 26.96% 30.27%

Source(s): Texas Education Agency (TEA) Student Enrollment Reports and Staff FTE Counts and Salary Reports

Teacher vs. Administrator Salaries

Have the incentives changed? According to the data included in Table 3, the average teacher base pay has increased at a slightly faster rate than that of administrators. However, with the number of administrators increasing much faster than teachers, the cost of administrators has become much more burdensome for taxpayers who fund the government school system and for the dollars that should go to education rather than administration.

Table 3 – Teaching Staff vs. Administrative Staff Salaries

School Year Average Teacher Base Pay % Increase Average Administrative Staff Base Pay % Increase
2014-15 $50,715 - $80,214 -
2015-16 $51,892 2.32% $81,905 2.11%
2016-17 $52,525 1.22% $82,946 1.27%
2017-18 $53,334 1.54% $84,456 1.82%
2018-19 $54,122 1.48% $85,664 1.43%
2019-20 $57,091 5.49% $89,629 4.63%
2020-21 $57,641 0.96% $90,731 1.23%
2021-22 $58,887 2.16% $92,806 2.29%
2022-23 $60,716 3.11% $92,683 -0.13%
Overall % Change 19.72% 15.54%

Source: Texas Education Agency (TEA) Staff FTE Counts and Salary Reports

Student Achievement

The increased amount of money spent on government schools appears to be a malinvestment by taxpayers. If taxpayer-supported education intends to develop an educated society equipped with the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) results show that we are headed in the wrong direction.

One would likely expect that educational results would improve with an increase in taxpayer resources, as displayed in Tables 1 through 3 above. Those expectations prove fleeting.

Tables 4 through 7 display the percentage of Texas students who, at a minimum, have met the STAAR test standards since 2019. Brace yourself. The results are dismal. This evidence of poor education for many students across Texas is not the only way to consider whether the government school system has been effective, as testing is not the optimal determinate of a child’s education because that is the parents, but it is informative. With these low outcomes and mostly declining outcomes over time, parents have become rightfully upset about how their tax dollars are spent.

Table 4 – Percentage of Students that Meet the STARR Test Standards – EOC Results

Subject Spring 2019 Spring 2020 Spring 2021 Spring 2022 Spring 2023
Algebra I 62% COVID 41% 46% 45%
Biology 63% COVID 54% 57% 57%
English I 49% COVID 50% 48% 54%
English II 51% COVID 57% 57% 56%
U.S. History 75% COVID 69% 71% 71%

Source: Texas Education Agency (TEA) Statewide Summary Reports and 2022-2023 STARR EOC Analysis
*The STARR test was redesigned between 2022 and 2023.

Table 5 – Percentage of Students that Meet the STARR Test Standards – Reading & Language Arts (RLA)

Grade Spring 2019 Spring 2020 Spring 2021 Spring 2022 Spring 2023
3rd 43% COVID 37% 50% 48%
4th 43% COVID 35% 52% 46%
5th 51% COVID 45% 56% 55%
6th 35% COVID 31% 42% 50%
7th 47% COVID 44% 54% 52%
8th 53% COVID 45% 56% 56%

Source: Texas Education Agency (TEA) 2022-2023 STARR Results Analysis
*The STARR test was redesigned between 2022 and 2023.

Table 6 – Percentage of Students that Meet the STARR Test Standards – Math

Grade Spring 2019 Spring 2020 Spring 2021 Spring 2022 Spring 2023
3rd 47% COVID 29% 41% 43%
4th 46% COVID 34% 41% 46%
5th 55% COVID 42% 46% 49%
6th 45% COVID 34% 37% 37%
7th 41% COVID 25% 29% 35%
8th 55% COVID 35% 38% 44%

Source: Texas Education Agency (TEA) 2022-2023 STARR Results Analysis
*The STARR test was redesigned between 2022 and 2023.

Table 7 – Percentage of Students that Meet the STARR Test Standards – Science & Social Studies

Grade & Subject Spring 2019 Spring 2020 Spring 2021 Spring 2022 Spring 2023
5th Science 47% COVID 29% 37% 34%
8th Science 49% COVID 42% 43% 45%
8th Social Studies 35% COVID 27% 29% 31%

Source: Texas Education Agency (TEA) 2022-2023 STARR Results Analysis
*The STARR test was redesigned between 2022 and 2023.

The Growing Debt Burden

As of the fiscal year 2023, there is a total of $120,129,025,470 in total outstanding local ISD debt. Almost 99.9% of that is tax-supported as opposed to revenue-supported debt. It is important to note that over 98.4% of this debt is voter-approved.

Put another way, that debt represents about $3,938 per Texan (Texas Population est. 30,503,301 as of July 2023). The combination of excessive spending and debt for the government school system that is not providing improved results and slow to declining enrollment in many places across the state results in a poor investment for Texans. This debt must be paid back with interest over time, so the cost will continue to increase, especially as interest rates have increased substantially in recent years.

What Does This Mean for the Upcoming Legislative Session?

The 89th Legislative Session is set to begin in January of 2025 and undoubtedly the topics of school funding and parental choice in the form of school choice will be topics brought up. Though we are still several months out from not only the legislative session but also the November general election, it does appear as though the Texas House of Representatives specifically is poised to look different concerning its political disposition to things like school choice. Given that several of the Republican opponents to such efforts have either not run for reelection or lost their reelection efforts, being replaced by candidates who purportedly do support such a thing, if and when the issue is brought up again before the Texas Legislature, its prospects might look different.

What form school choice legislation takes is unknown although it most assuredly will be some sort of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) model, as promoted by Governor Abbott and several key elected officials in Texas.

Increasingly, Texas taxpayers seem to be catching on to the misallocation of resources and lack of accountability coming from the government school system. It is beyond time that the myth concerning a lack of resources going to that system be crushed and the system itself be transformed to one that actually services students.

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