On Wednesday, a group of far-left pastors published a column in the Dallas Morning News criticizing the budding parental empowerment movement and calling on the Legislature to heap a great deal more on Texas’ failing public school system. The central premise of the article, which was difficult to take seriously, is that we, as a state, are not “provid[ing] the funding our educators and school districts need.”
That’s a hard argument to accept given that some ISDs employ superintendents that make more than the president of the United States; other ISDs have been caught spending on private airplanes, water parks, and strip clubs; and still others are home to extremely expensive high school football stadiums—with a $100 million stadium perhaps added to that list if voters give it a thumb’s up in November.
But the column’s most glaring flaw is its defense of deficit budgeting. It reads:
“Due to legislative inaction during the spring, school boards across Texas were forced to approve deficit budgets merely to survive this academic year. For example, Dallas ISD approved a $186 million deficit budget, Garland ISD faced a $69 million deficit, and Plano ISD had to manage a $24 million shortfall.”
The thrust of the pastors’ argument here is that it’s the State’s fault that these 3 school districts’ budgets are unbalanced. But that claim is easily disproved by the data.
Looking at the latest available Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) for Dallas ISD, Garland ISD, and Plano ISD, it is obvious that, in each case, enrollment and expenditures in these districts are moving in opposite directions. That is to say, Dallas, Garland, and Plano ISDs are shrinking in student population while at the same time their budgets are growing bigger.
Here is a visual of enrollment decline and expenditure growth in each district from 2013 to 2022. See the problem?
Figures have been rounded to the nearest one.
What the data clearly shows is that these select school districts have an insatiable appetite to spend Other People’s Money, which has justification since they are teaching fewer and fewer students. And if Dallas, Garland, and Plano ISDs have problems with deficit budgeting today, then it is their own fault since they have consistently failed to align spending growth with long-term enrollment trends.
The blame belongs to big spending school districts, not the State.