Society

RISD REPORT

School finance is spinning
Dr. Howell Wright

The specia l session w ill wind down this week and is scheduled to end on June 30. Funding schools in Texas is only one of several reasons the governor called a special session. Legislators were forced to reevaluate decisions they made in the final days of the regular session that would change funding to public schools significantly.

During the special session much of the legislation pertaining to school funding was fast tracked in committees during a time that most schools were finishing their regular school year and graduating another senior class. A final analysis of school finance will not be ready for several more days or possibly weeks follow ing the session, but Texas schools will probably end up with the scenarios in the next paragraph. I will also caution stakeholders to be careful with press releases that tell partial truths, but don’t explain everything that may be of interest to you.

Schools in Texas will be cut six percent of what they were to earn in the current state funding formula for this coming school year. This is called proration, but under new legislation schools will not get that money back when more funding is available as current proration rules require. Information from some resources w ill tell you that schools were only cut three percent.

That number reflects federal dollars that the state had no control over, but some state lawmakers included in their explanation of budget cuts. The second year of the biennium schools will cut funding according to their Target Revenue level. Schools will be cut at different percentages across the state in the 2012-13 school year.

School enrollment in Texas has grown about 80,000 students per year over the past several years. The legislature has traditionally provided schools with either the same or greater dollars per student every session since the 1930’s. I suggest that readers be careful of information that is passed down from our lawmakers. School funding in Texas may have increased by $1.6 billion, but funding per student has decreased. Every school in Texas will lose dollars per student when the new law is passed. When funding is decreased per student there will be fewer resources available for schools. Schools across Texas will choose different methods of cutting school budgets over the next two years. No one likes budget cuts and no matter how a school looks at cutting resources someone will disagree with the cut and will oppose the decision. Lawmakers have been proud to claim that they developed a budget for the state that doesn’t raise taxes. Unfortunately they have pushed the decision to raise taxes on the local taxpayer. Schools can cut their budgets to absorb the funding cuts from the state, but at the same time schools have to adjust for inflation. I am sure that you would agree fuel and food costs are greater this year than they were last year.

What legislators did not do this session was fix the structural hole in school funding they created in 2006 with HB 1. Since they refused to fix the system this session they have promised they w ill fix it next session. Historically lawmakers in Texas do not address school funding inadequacies until a court order forces them to deal with them. Also, it seems that they will have to address the shortfall in state healthcare funding that they put off until 2013. I question how they will address a broken school finance system w ith another looming budget shortfall. I understand that our law makers have a tough job with many people pulling at them for decisions that affect their jobs and their lives, but constitutionally Texas legislators are required to adequately fund Texas schools. Ask yourself the following questions:

• Does cutting funding per student that forces less resources for students adequately fund schools?

• Does prov iding for rules that allow salaries to be cut, furloughs, and larger classroom size provide adequate funding?

• How would the use of a portion (not all) of the Rainy Day Fund have secured adequate funding for schools?

It depends on how people choose to answer the question, but t he realit y is t here w ill be less money per student for schools next year and the year following.


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