Earlier this month, the Comptroller of Public Accounts released its F.A.S.T. report (Financial Allocation Study for Texas), the culmination of a project called “Connecting the Dots: School Spending and Student Progress”. The goal of the initiative was to create a metric by which to measure the amount of money given school districts were spending versus the level of academic success students in said district were achieving.
There is a lot to like about this report. The scope of it is impressive; F.A.S.T. makes an effort to account for every tax dollar spent on K-12 education in Texas. In addition to making some very strong general recommendations for improving public education in the state (including raising the cap on charter schools and making virtual education much more accessible), it creates a system by which individual schools can run a unique F.A.S.T. report to determine their level of fiscal efficiency. Parents or concerned community members can also run such reports on their local schools, as the system is completely open for public use.
Where the comptroller’s report succeeds is along the lines of transparency, specifically in the way it gives school districts a clear picture of how well they are managing their money. The report also includes recommendations for improving one’s F.A.S.T. score, in the form of best practices in schools that scored extremely well.
All that said, not everything about what F.A.S.T. propagates is positive. It places strong emphasis on schools participating in the K-12 curriculum called CSCOPE as a cost savings measure, which many participating teachers and parents have found frustrating. It also encourages school districts to rely more heavily on their regional education service center, which exist as an unnecessary level of bureaucracy in an already over-crowded system of state education administration.
The spirit of fiscal responsibility in Susan Combs’ report should be lauded. However, what Texas should always be concerned with, first and foremost, is providing the best possible education for our students. Giving our school districts the tools they need to become more fiscally responsible is an out-standing move. But education quality should not be negatively impacted in the name of saving a buck.
– James Golsan