Report slams Texas’ underfunding of public schools

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     Jul 29, 2018

    AUSTIN — Texas’ school-age population is the nation’s fastest-growing, with about 850,000 new pupils in the past decade, but over the same period, the state cut public-education spending by $2.5 billion.

    The cuts are second only to Florida’s, according to a new report from the American Federation of Teachers, which tracks post-recession education investments nationwide.

    Instead of spending on public education, the report — “A Decade of Neglect: Public Education Funding in the Aftermath of the Great Recession” — charges that Texas lawmakers cut taxes for business while padding the state’s reserve accounts.

    “Texas should be ashamed of its disinvestment in education,” Louis Malfaro, Texas AFT president, said in a statement. “There is no one to blame but state officials, including the governor and lieutenant governor, who would rather hand out tax cuts than give our kids a well-funded education.

    “The fact is, money matters in schools.”

    Whether lawmakers will decide to reverse the trend remains to be seen, but there is recognition that not addressing funding will not only threaten achieving Texas’ “60×30 Goal,” but brings sobering economic consequences.

    “Recent testimony to the State Commission on Public School Finance … indicates that Texas is falling far short of its goal, announced by Gov. (Greg) Abbott and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2015, of having 60 percent of adults ages 25-34 attain a post-secondary degree by the year 2030,” according to a draft white paper by the commission’s working group. “Based on current growth trends and ignoring anticipated future demographic changes that are only likely to create additional headwinds, Texas will miss that critical goal by over two decades.”

    A recent Georgetown University study shows that more than 95 percent of jobs created since the 2008 recession went to those with some college education.

    Meanwhile, only about 40 percent of Texans, 25 to 34 years old, have post-secondary degrees.

    That includes adults who move to Texas and those coming through the state’s own pipeline.

    According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board:

    • Only 28 percent of Texas high school graduates … earned a credential within six years after their actual/scheduled high school graduation

    • Only 12 percent of low-income students earned any type of post-secondary education within the six-year period

    Low income students represent six in 10 Texas public K-12 students.

    Chandra Villanueva, a school-finance expert at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin think tank, said the state has “broken the grand bargain,” by not restoring billions of dollars it cut from school funding in 2011.

    “In 2015, when we had a more-positive revenue outlook, we cut taxes,” Villanueva said. “This is all very self-inflicted.

    “We’re underfunding our schools, then we say they’re failures: that we need vouchers.”

    Not earning postsecondary credentials costs each Texas high school graduating class a combined $201 billion in future lifetime earnings, the outcomes committee reported.

    “Not only is the current opportunity cost for our state’s economy tremendous, the resulting costs to our state of an undereducated workforce is also substantial and growing,” the white paper reported. “ Our state’s uninsured medical costs for patients without employee-provided health benefits now exceed $6 billion annually.

    “In addition, the costs of incarcerating young men and women in Texas (who far too often are uneducated — national research indicates that 75 percent of state prison inmates did not complete high school or can be classified as low literate) now exceeds $5.7 billion annually. Our state prisons house roughly 147,000 inmates at an annual cost of (about) $38,000/inmate, equal to more than three times what we spend annually per student on K-12 education.”

    The state comptroller, in a statement, noted that Texas should see “better than expected revenue growth in fiscal 2018 and an improved economic outlook for fiscal 2019.”

    Per a constitutional amendment, $2.5 billion of an expected fiscal 2018 $30.5 billion in sales taxes will go to the State Highway Fund.

    Due to increased oil and natural-gas severance taxes, Texas’ Economic Stabilization Fund — the so-called rainy day fund — and the highway fund will each receive $1.37 billion in November 2018, up from an earlier estimate of $777 million.

    That will leave the ESF with a balance of $11.85 billion at the end of fiscal 2019, its largest-ever end balance.

    “We’ve got over 5 million kids in our schools, but luckily, we’re not a poor state,” Villanueva said. “There’s money to be tapped.”

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