On January 1, 2005, the Texas Federation of Teachers started touting its “100% solution” – a plan to increase state spending on public education by almost $8 billion. The rationale for pushing for more funds? TFT cites Judge John Dietz’s ruling that the Texas scheme for funding public education is unconstitutional.
Further, TFT’s president chastises the 78th Legislature for “gutting” public education. John Cole claims that “to balance the state’s budget without increasing taxes the 2003 legislature took a meat ax to education. The TFT Legislative Department estimates that legislators whacked more than $3.7 billion from programs designed to help kids learn or help keep good teachers.”
Most recently, TFT attacked Governor Perry’s “State of the State” address because he wasn’t an unbridled enthusiast for the current condition of public education in Texas. Cole opined that the governor “portrayed Texas schools as mediocre at best, staffed by unmotivated teachers, and governed by secretive cabals that guzzle tax dollars without producing results.”
Of course, Governor Perry didn’t chastise the entire system for mediocrity. Those are characterizations made by TFT unsupported by fact or reason.
In the 2004-2005 state budget passed in 2003, legislators dedicated 58.4% of all general revenue dollars to Texas public and higher education. In fact, appropriations for public education increased $1.19 billion over the previous biennium. Currently, Texas ranks 3rd in the nation for the percentage of total state expenditures devoted to public education.
Teachers employed by public schools have earned an average salary increase of nearly $9,300 since 1999, according to the Governor’s Office. Additionally, Governor Perry helped create the Master Teacher Program in the fields of reading, math and science that allows qualified teachers to earn a $5,000 annual bonus.
To quote directly from the Governor’s January, 2005 “State of the State” address: “When our work is done, parents won’t measure our success by how much money we spend, but whether more children learn. I support additional dollars for our schools, but even more importantly, I support dedicating new money to rewarding and supporting our best teachers and providing incentives for progress at schools with large numbers of economically disadvantaged students.”
Based on the Governor’s and the Legislature’s clearly demonstrated commitment to the teaching profession, why would TFT continually make outlandish accusations against them? The answer clearly lies in interest group politics.
The political alignment of educational interest groups, notably teachers unions and superintendents, is to the Left. Their chief interest is pushing state spending upward – even to the detriment of taxpayers – and to shift the burden of taxation from local to state-managed schemes that avoid the messy consequences of local accountability for increased spending.
Teachers would do well to sever their ties to superintendents. The shortcoming in state spending is not the amount of money the Legislature devotes to public education, but how precious few of those funds go directly to the critical functions of teaching and learning in the classroom. As a consequence, teachers get the short end of the stick.
The clearest illustration of this point is the ratio of teachers to non-teaching personnel in our public schools. According to Texas Education Agency numbers, the ratio of teachers to non-teachers has declined. Two decades ago the ratio was 3 teachers to 1 non-teacher. Today, the ratio is essentially 1-to-1. Even with an enrollment growth of nearly 80,000 students per year, the number of non-teachers grew faster than the number of teachers.
Amazingly, the Comptroller and the Texas Education Agency maintain that only 52 cents of every dollar spent on public education goes to the classroom. The actual number is likely much lower.
The enormous growth of non-teaching personnel prevents teachers from reaping the benefits of increased funding for public education. In other words, bureaucracy increasingly and detrimentally consumes funds that should be devoted to the teaching profession. If classroom instruction is the critical component of education, then TFT should be working to ensure that teaching and learning is the top priority of the Legislature rather than falsely castigating those who have decisively increased funding for Texas’ schools.
Patterson is the director of research at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Colyandro is the executive director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.