Amid higher food costs, high gasoline prices, banks going belly up, and a tanking stock market, taxpayers around the state and in every walk of life are feeling the squeeze on their wallets. But to more than 100 Texas school districts, this fall seems as a good time as any to raise taxes.

Most businesses and families are tightening their belts and making cuts to their budgets to stay in the black. But these school districts would rather take more of your money than look for ways to cut costs and operate more efficiently.

Advocates of the public education establishment argue that schools are “inadequately funded,” that “teachers are poorly paid,” and that there is “no more important investment than education.”

But before we get taken captive by these emotional arguments, let’s examine the facts. Texas public schools spent $43.2 billion in the 2005-2006 school year. Per-student costs have almost doubled over the past 10 years, going from $5,282 per student in 1995-96 to $9,629 in 2005-06. Yet for all this money, test scores and student achievement have not seen great gains.

For every teacher working in a public school system, there is a non-teacher. (Only 312,922 of the 634,979 employees in public schools are teachers.)

The average Texas teacher made $46,178 in the 2007-08 school year. Starting salaries for new teachers in large school districts (>50,000 students) were $42,557 last year.

One surprising fact is that the general public seems to be grossly misinformed on how much they spend on public schools. A recent poll by researchers at the University of Chicago and Brown University found that the American public vastly underestimates average teacher salaries and per-pupil spending. The average respondent underestimated per-student spending by more than $6,000, and teacher salaries by $14,000. Almost 96 percent of the public underestimated either per-student spending in their district or teacher salaries in their state.

School districts may want to think twice in asking for more money without showing a resulting increase in student learning. Taxpayers and homeowners do not have unlimited resources and should demand transparency and results for their tax dollars.

– Brooke Terry