Public Schools Plead Poverty—What Do the Numbers Say?

We are less than nine months away from the start of the 89th Texas Legislature, and public-school elites and special interest have already started to claim that our public education system is underfunded.

Facing a $60 million budget deficit, Austin ISD Superintendent Matias Segura said that the district would not have been in this situation if the Legislature had not refused to increase school funding. In the district’s words “With the state sitting on a large budget surplus, schools across the state were counting on such an increase.”

Segura, who makes over $362,000 per year (not including benefits), emphasized that any cuts to the 2024 – 2025  budget would not affect students and teachers. But they said the same would probably not be true if more cuts are necessary.

Segura’s statements highlight two recurring talking points regurgitated among public school elites: (1) public schools are grossly underfunded, thanks to the actions of Republicans, and (2) as a result, districts cannot invest in their teachers and classrooms.

These are flat-out lies. I’ll explain how.

First, let’s tackle the first lie. According to the Texas Education Agency, which distributes money to public schools, Texas spent $92.4 billion on public education in the 2022-23 school year, which is $16,792 for each of the 5.5 million Texas students.

This amounts to an increase of over $7.6 billion from the previous school year and an increase of over $39.9 billion over the last 10 years. Put another way, since the 2011–2012 academic year, spending on public education has increased by more than 76%. This comes out to a per-student increase of $6,236.

When confronted with these facts public school elites will cry, “but inflation!”

Yet even when accounting for inflation, Texas spent $22.8 billion more in 2023 than it did in 2012. That’s a whopping 32% increase in inflation-adjusted spending (adjusted to 2024 dollars).

As you can see, our public schools have not suffered from underfunding. Rather, they have been the beneficiaries of a very generous increase in spending on behalf of the Texas taxpayer—all occurring during Republic control of the House, Senate, and the office of the Governor.

The second lie is about instructional spending. If education elites cannot dedicate a dime of their new funds to teacher pay raises, then where is that money going?

By breaking up all of the public education expenditures into four categories (Instructional Spending, Administration Spending, Non-Teacher Spending, and New Facilities & Debt Spending), we can find the answer to this question.

And again, after adjusting for inflation, we find that New Facilities & Debt Spending increased by over 62% from $14.3 billion in 2012 to over $23.1 billion in 2023. Meanwhile, Instructional Spending (the spending on salaries and benefits for teachers, instructional assistants, and substitutes) has increased by less than 13% during the same period. Administrative Spending and Spending on all other categories increased by 27% and 26%, respectively.

Numbers don’t lie. We can see exactly what the priority is for the educational establishment: growing and transforming their independent school districts into mini-university systems—and creating a guaranteed jobs program for school administrators.

But let’s return to Austin ISD. What did administrators spend all of that money on that could have contributed to the district’s $60 million shortfall? Just this past year, Austin ISD reported spending over $30 million on professional services (architects and other vendors), $2.8 million on consultants, $1.3 million on legal fees, and $94 million on the interest of bond debt.

By my count, that is over $128 million—more than twice as much as the shortfall they are currently facing. So when the Legislature convenes again in January, we’re going to hear a lot of public school officials pleading poverty. But we know better.