The Texas Legislature is giving Texas school districts approximately $700 more per student in taxpayer money to spend nearly as they wish, along with many other monetary bells and whistles.
In House Bill 3, recently signed by Governor Abbott, there is more money for full-day pre-kindergarten, teacher salaries, bilingual education, special needs, and disadvantaged students. There’s even a novel bonus incentive program wherein districts get more money for every student they graduate college, career or military ready.
All told, Texas taxpayers may be spending $14,000 per student, or more than $300,000 per classroom. That is a lot of dough.
Will it mean a boost in the number of students who can read and do math at grade level? The historical connection between more money and better student results suggests we shouldn’t hold our breath.
It follows a predictable and maddening pattern: students get lackluster results and school administrators blame it on deficient funding, so the legislature hands over more taxpayer cash hoping for the best. Then when nothing changes, or student results get even worse, school administrators come back asking the legislature for even more money.
And the cycle goes on while our students languish.
For example, in 2010 the Obama administration dropped a cash bomb on schools. There was so much money the Texas Legislature had to implore many school districts to spend it before the deadline. But did student results improve? Nope. Texas test scores on the Nation’s Report Card stayed the same or declined.
This time around, the Texas Legislature flush with cash chose to increase school funding, instead of giving even more significant property tax relief to Texas families and businesses.
This is a big trade-off. Texans have watched their property taxes skyrocket year after year, outstripping a family’s ability to pay and causing some to lose their homes.
While the legislature did give significant property tax relief, more could have been provided, but the legislature chose to put billions more into schools, hoping this will finally be the year more money means better results.
Many Texas schools may not have needed more money, but would rather reallocate their existing dollars to programs that improve student outcomes.
For example, A.S. Putegnat Elementary in Brownsville has the best third-grade reading results in the nation, despite educating nearly 100% poor and 90% bilingual students. The school spends less per student than the statewide average.
Putegnat Elementary gets great reading results not with cash, but with relentlessly focusing on individual student reading skills and monitoring progress, teacher teamwork and development, and proven curriculum.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it looks like Texas school boards are rapidly adopting school year 2019-20 budgets with little effort to determine how their students are reading, how the new money could be used to improve outcomes or how they intend to monitor school or student progress.
But the stakes for how our schools use their money could not be higher. An eye-popping 54% of Texas students, roughly 2,916,000 kids, read below grade level and results are not much better in math. Further, we are losing ground to other states in nearly every demographic.
Let’s hope school administrators don’t squander your tax dollars, but actually focus on what matters: helping every child – rich and poor – grow every day in their reading and math skills.