By Ken Paxton
In January, the Texas Comptroller released the initial Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST) report showing how local school districts allocate their finances to achieve results. The report examines many criteria that reveal how school districts utilize local and state resources to educate Texas’ schoolchildren. Here are some of the highlights of the FAST report:
· Since the 1998-1999 school year, total school spending in Texas has increased from $28.0 billion to $54.7 billion per school year; which amounts to a 95% increase in spending.
· During the same period, enrollment growth in public schools has increased from 3.95 million students to 4.73 million students; which amounts to a 20% increase in enrollment.
· On average in Texas, school districts spent $11,978 per student in 2008-2009, which is nearly double the spending per student from 1998-1999. By contrast, McKinney ISD only spends about $7,600 per student.
· In the 1998-1999 school year, payroll and operating costs were the highest expenditures in school district budgets by percentage. In 2008-2009, the highest expenditures by percentage were debt service and capital expenditures.
· Most school districts built up fund balances to offset economic downturns as property appraisals increased.
· In 2008-2009, payroll expenditures, as a percentage of total expenditures, ranked last in district spending instead of first, as they had in 1998-1999.
The Comptroller’s report comes at a time when many school districts are facing budget shortfalls as a result of the recent economic downturn. As a result, many school districts are currently asking the Legislature for assistance. In order to help school districts address their needs, I support initiatives that remove many of the unfunded mandates on public schools, provide additional financial flexibility for school districts, and equitably fund public schools. Each State requirement needs to be carefully evaluated to ensure that education quality improves while administrative requirements are reduced, which will save school districts bureaucratic costs.
Additionally, I believe that funding teacher salaries and purchasing and maintaining classroom resources should be the top priority when spending scarce education dollars. The evidence from the Comptroller’s report shows that even though the Legislature has increased state spending to local school districts above and beyond enrollment growth and inflation over the past dozen years, many local school districts have increased administrative overhead costs and capital expenditures faster than teacher salaries and classroom instruction expenditures.
Finally, the school districts that received high ratings in the FAST report should be used as a model across the State for improving student performance, supporting teachers and utilizing resources for classroom instruction. I am pleased to say that McKinney ISD and Frisco ISD were given the highest rating by the Comptroller for maintaining high student performance while keeping costs low. Allen ISD, Prosper ISD and Celina ISD also scored very high.
For more information about the FAST report, please visit http://www.fastexas.org.