I realize that public school funding will always be political issue no matter how much I wish it were about Texas children. Truth gets lost or, at a minimum, skewed in the political rhetoric. In the recent school finance lawsuit, the judge declared the system of funding public education as unconstitutional, inequitable, inadequate and unsuitable to meet the standards set by the state. In response, a statement from the Governor’s office cited statistics to propose that the state had done more than its share to support public education. The release from the Governor’s office this week suggested that public education funding had increased 70 percent since 2002 at a time when public school enrollment increased just 23 percent.
The Governor is accurate in broad terms, but stops short of sharing the entire picture. The Legislative Budget Board showed an expenditure of $10.9 billion in state spending for public education in 2002 and $18.9 billion spent in 2012, a 73 percent increase. Enrollment did increase a little over 20 percent or by approximately 900,000 students statewide. However, and this is a BIG however, the Governor’s numbers have several critical omissions.
First, when you adjust the budget numbers for inflation, the total state spending gets reduced to 20 percent. Using 2004 dollars, state spending increased from $11.8 to $14.2, far less than the 70 percent the Governor reported, but roughly equal to the increase in enrollment. Even this is only a part of the story.
Second, and this is a key point, in its big push to reduce local property taxes for public schools, the state cut $7 billion in local property taxes in favor of new state business taxes, thereby shifting local funds to state funds. The Governor counts this $7 billion per year as additional state funding infused into the system even though did not increase the amount of total funding to local school districts. The net impact was a simple transfer of equal funds from one source to another.
When inflation and the tax transfer are factored into the state spending claims for 2012, the numbers show an adjusted state expenditure of $8.2 billion, or 25 percent less than the $10.9 spent in 2002. That’s a significant difference at a time when the state’s academic standards for college and readiness have been significantly increased.
The state has needs and finite resources. However, finding the resources to provide equitable and adequate funding for the children ought to be its top priority.