Commentary: Texas system for determining school district funding | KERA News

Commentary: Texas system for determining school district funding

Commentary: Texas system for determining school district funding

Dallas, TX –

Lately, we've heard a lot of talk about the way our local public schools spend education dollars.

But, perhaps we should also take a quick look at the state's system for determining just how many dollars your school district has to spend in the first place. After all, it's your children and your money we're talking about.

The bad news is that under our state's current school finance system about six out of every seven school districts, students, and taxpayers are left holding the short end of the stick.

Here's how it works. Whether your children are getting the short end of the stick depends upon the amount of taxable property value per student in your district. The state calls districts with the most value per student Chapter 41 districts. Most of the less wealthy districts are called Tier 2 districts.

You probably already know the state sets the same performance standards for all school districts and all students and that those performance standards are very high, which are good things.

However, for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual cost of achieving those high standards, the state makes significantly less financial resources available to Tier 2 districts than to high-wealth Chapter 41 districts. This is clearly unfair to the children in less-wealthy Tier 2 districts, who must pass the same state tests and compete on an equal footing in colleges, universities, and the job market after they graduate from high school.

To illustrate the average funding gap between Chapter 41 and Tier 2 districts as it existed in the 2004-2005 school year, let's create two hypothetical school districts of 4,000 students each, which is about the state average, and let's make them identical in every way, except wealth.

Let's call one Long End ISD and the other, Short End ISD - to reflect where they come out on the state's school finance stick.

Would it surprise you to know that under current law, Short End ISD would have nearly $3.6 million less to spend on its children than Long End ISD - even though both districts are taxing at the highest rate allowed?

To bring that number closer to home, the funding difference between two identical elementary campuses of 600 children would be over half a million dollars.

Imagine what your district could do for your children with that kind of extra money year, after year, after year. It could hire more and better-qualified teachers, purchase more and better computers, and add counselors and librarians - all of which would enhance your district's chances of improving its students' academic achievements, both now and later in college.

Part of the extra money could even be used to lower your property taxes.

At the Equity Center we believe the state needs to change the ways it funds public schools so that each and every Texas child has an equal chance of getting the best education our state system makes available for any other Texas child regardless of where they live.

Dr. Wayne Pierce is executive director of the Equity Center, based in Austin.

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