Texas now 49th in spending on public schools

Texas has dropped closer to the bottom in spending per pupil in the U.S.and is now more than $3,000 below the national average – about $66,000 less per elementary classroom – according to new comparisons by the National Education Association.

Texas schools are spending $8,400 per student in the current school year, well under the national average of $11,455 and low enough to put the state 49th in a ranking of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Arizona and Nevada spend less on their students.

Preliminary NEA figures show that per pupil spending in the state has now decreased $1,046 from the 2010-11 school year, when Texas ranked 41st among the states and D.C. with an average expenditure of $9,446. The precipitous drop in the rankings follows the Legislature’s decision in 2011 to cut funding for public schools by $5.4 billion in the current two-year budget to offset a revenue shortfall.

Some lawmakers are working to restore those funds in the current session, but legislative leaders so far have been cool to that idea.

Average teacher salaries in Texas also declined this year to $48,110, a drop of $263 from a year ago and a figure that ranks the state 38th, down four spots from a year ago. Two years ago, before the funding reductions, Texas teachers ranked 31st in salary. The national average this year is $56,383.

“This is more proof of the assault that Gov. Perry and the legislative majority made on public schools and public school students two years ago,” said Clay Robison of the NEA-affiliated Texas State Teachers Association.

“Funding has dropped more than $1,000 per child over the past two years and there is no doubt that is causing a lot of damage to learning opportunities in Texas.”

School districts have coped with the funding cuts by increasing class sizes in all grades, laying off teachers and other school employees and eliminating a variety of programs. In addition, remedial classes for low-achieving students have been sharply scaled back and school improvement projects have been deferred.

More than 600 districts were frustrated enough to sue Texas, and earlier this month state District Judge John Dietz ruled that the funding system was inadequate, inequitable and in violation of a ban on a statewide property tax. The decision is expected to be appealed by the state.

Many Republican lawmakers have questioned whether more money is the key to improving education, arguing that school districts can do a better job by becoming more efficient.

Former House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, who sponsored legislation to help districts deal with the cuts in 2011, said studies he has seen indicate “no correlation” between spending and student achievement.

“It’s not how much you spend. It’s how well you spend it,” he insisted.

But Judge Dietz disagreed in his ruling, saying, “There is no free lunch. We either want increased standards and are willing to pay the price – or we don’t.”

The NEA comparisons – based on data furnished by state education agencies – are among the most reliable in the nation and are frequently cited by officials in Texas and other states. The NEA has been issuing its annual reports on public school spending since the early 1960s.



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