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October 19, 2012

Public schools in Texas are among the most poorly funded in the nation, and in recent years funding has become more unfair, according to the second edition of "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card." No wonder parents and school districts have taken the state to court.

Even before this year's $5 billion cut, Texas ranks 43rd in overall funding level. The state also receives a "D" on funding distribution, which measures the extent to which the state's funding system is progressively structured so that high poverty districts receive more aid than low poverty districts. In Texas, the pattern is actually regressive with the highest poverty districts getting, on average, only about 94% of the funding their wealthier counterparts receive.

This means high poverty districts, whose students need to learn more not less, have only 94 cents to spend for every dollar spent by well-to-do districts. Such a skewed funding system thwarts efforts to close achievement gaps.

In addition to being regressive, the overall funding levels in the state are quite low. Using figures adjusted to allow for cross state comparisons, Texas' per pupil spending is only $8,862 compared to the national average of $10,744. Even amidst its low spending neighbors, Texas performs poorly providing less funding than the much maligned funding systems in Alabama and Louisiana.

The National Report Card (NRC) is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC), and Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC.

Stable and Equitable Funding Is Essential

First issued in 2010, the NRC is built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems of school finance are the essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education. Without this foundation, efforts to improve the nation's schools will be unproductive and unsustainable. To improve upon the condition and performance of schools, states need to implement systems that provide sufficient funding that is fairly distributed to account for the needs of students, especially low income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

The Report Card evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, "fairness indicators" -- funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage. Texas performs poorly on funding level and funding distribution and is about average on effort and coverage.

Between 2007 and 2009, the state modestly increased per pupil spending, but not enough to budge from its low 40's ranking. Since 2009, the state has made major cuts, not yet reflected in the data analyzed for this report.

Texas receives a "C" for state fiscal effort, measured as the proportion of the state's economic productivity that is spent on education. This is a slight improvement over previous years. But the state will need to increase its effort if it is to raise overall funding levels to support student achievement.

Texas is also about average in its coverage ranking which examines the share of school-age children who attend public schools and the median household income of those children compared to those who do not. Only about 9% of Texas school children attend nonpublic schools, a rate lower than many other states. However, the income disparity between public and nonpublic school households is quite high with nonpublic households earning twice that of public school households.

State Funding System on Trial

The State's refusal to provide fair school funding has led Texas parents and a majority of the state's school districts to file several lawsuits claiming the education finance system violates the Texas Constitution. The trial court consolidated these cases and will begin hearing the evidence on October 22. The court hopes to issue its ruling early next year, in time for the legislature to consider the findings during the 2013 session.

The parents and districts claim that the funding level is insufficient, is inequitably distributed, and shortchanges schools educating high numbers of ELL and economically disadvantaged students. The parents ask the court to (1) conclude that these shortcomings violate the constitution's requirement that the system be "efficient," as delineated under Texas precedent, and (2) order the State to remedy these problems.

Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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