Reprinted with permission by the author Paul Bingham, Spurger ISD School Board Member
School Funding Issues
Let me start by sharing some information from an article written by, Judge Scott F. McCown, Exec. Dir., Center for Public Policy Priorities. “In national and statewide polls, lack of adequate funding for schools is identified by citizens as a major problem. Texans know that our children are being shortchanged. That so many of us in Texas see the problem is, no doubt, due to the fact Texas ranks 42nd among the states in expenditures for public education.”
“Inadequacy is easy to see. Many people may not, however, be aware that a major reason why so many schools have unmet needs is that the funding system is highly inequitable. Funding practices are very layered, very complex, and are, therefore, difficult to explain and understand. Many may know that the inequities exist but think that they are small, not worth the effort to change things. Funding gaps, however, have become funding chasms. General operating funding levels range from approximately $4000 per WADA to more than $14000.” The Weighted Average Daily Attendance (WADA) allocations are the number of students in each district multiplied by weighted formulas for certain populations in selected instructional programs. See, it’s getting complicated already. This is how the state determines the amount of funding the district’s maintenance and operations (M&O) monies.
Judge McCown goes on and states. “The arguments for equity boil down to this: We simply cannot afford to continue robbing the multitude of children in property-poor districts to enhance the facilities, opportunities, and performance of the children in districts already well funded.” We all are in this boat together, regardless the school district you’re in. The future of Texas children are at stake, and so is the future of Texas.
One reason the system no longer works is the policies that help make up some of the allocation state monies were made years ago and no longer reflect today’s cost.
The Cost of Education (CEI), was adopted in 1990. (20yrs ago)
The “wealth hold harmless” provision approved by the legislature as a temporary measure in 1993 is still in place. (becoming “hold harmful”)
Transportation allocations have not changed since 1984. (Has gas/diesel prices changed since?)
The WADA formulas, created more than 20 years ago, only cover ¼ to ½ of study-determined real costs.
Even recent changes in the system, are designed to give greater advantages to those districts that are already well funded.
Depleting Fund Balances. We are seeing reports of teacher layoffs, school closings, elimination of programs, no cost-of-living increases, decisions to pass along rising health care costs to employees, and other measures just to get by. In just 2 years (2007-08 & 2008-09), according to TEA, 40% of Texas school districts spent more than $1.1 billion from their fund balances in order to avoid budget deficits. Officials are predicting that more than 60% of the districts will dip into fund balances for the 2010-11 school year.
Unfunded Mandates. “Also contributing to the budget shortfalls are hundreds of unfunded mandates and transparency requirements enacted by federal and state governments. Both good and bad ideas get passed into law, and far too many times they are either underfunded or not funded at all, requiring local districts to pick up the costs.” By the way, the Texas Constitution requires the state to fund the cost of educating our children.
Crisis. Hurricanes have made it difficult to replace or repair damaged schools and their contents. Gasoline, diesel and other energy cost spiking upwards, the bills still have to be paid. The H1N1 flu epidemic is another example of an unanticipated and unfunded cost.
Rising Expectations. Curriculum standards have increased as well as graduation requirements. Technology costs, professional development and training programs, new curriculum added, software purchases and licensing renewals, security measures are all examples of major expenditures in district budgets that grow annually. “21st century schools have 21st century needs, and those needs are not being met in Texas with our 20th century budgets.”
Taxpayer Inequity. This is the most talked about subject in the Spurger ISD at the moment. Many other districts have already found themselves debating this subject. “An equitable school funding system must ensure equity not only for the students, but also for the taxpayers. The funding gaps in Texas did not arise from the unwilliness of citizens in low-funded districts to support education. Ironically, those districts with the lowest levels of funding tax at the highest rates, but the state and local yield for a penny of tax in one district may vary greatly from the yield in another. The definition of taxpayer equity is: “From a school finance perspective, a system would be judged fair to taxpayers if every taxpayer was assured that a given tax rate would translate into the same amount of spending per pupil regardless of where the taxpayer lived. The Texas school funding is nowhere close to this for our taxpayers; nor is the current system bringing us in this direction. “Of the 1,025 school districts in Texas that collect property taxes, there are more than 100 districts with taxable values at or below $100,000 per student, and there are more than 60 districts with taxable values that exceed $1 million per student.
Why We Must Act. Regardless of the outcome of the Tax Rollback Election (TRE) for Spurger ISD. It’s almost overwhelming. Rising percentages of children who are economically disadvantaged, large gaps remaining in dropout and graduation rates, rising expectations to graduate all students with college/workforce knowledge and skills, inequitable funding allocations, and a school funding system that is broken in so many pieces it is difficult to enumerate them all.
We can enact during the next legislative session an equitable and fair funding system in order to increase opportunities to learn, based more on student needs than on the geography of where the students live. In the next legislature session, there will be a single tier funding system presented to our legislature representatives. This system is designed to bring equity and fairness to all of Texas school districts. Our current school funding did not fail in just one or two years and the repair will not come in just one or two years. The system will bridge the legislature representatives and the school funding system towards the direction of providing the path we need in Texas to educate all of our children and bring equity to our school tax dollars.
The legislature representatives have left many of the Texas school board members with the understanding that they are unable to understand our broken school funding system and would consider legislature to correct it, provided the voters would voice this to be their desire. Otherwise, the system stays broke.
I, as a board member, respectfully request; I urge you; I beg you; or I pray that each and everyone in the Spurger ISD and in Texas, would take a moment and communicate to your state senator and state representative to enact on a new equitable and fair funding system. Such as the one that will be presented.