Where Things Stand on Public School Finance

As 2018 winds down, there’s been a flurry of activity on the Texas Public School Finance Commission. At CPPP, we have been tracking the commission’s work all year, testifying at meetings, providing analysis and submitting recommendations.
Recall that the Legislature set up the commission, which has met all year and which is finalizing a report by the end of this month to deliver to lawmakers. The report should include recommendations on how Texas legislators could remodel the state’s outdated ways of paying for public education.
The commission has released a draft report, and here are our key takeaways so far:

  • We applaud the commissioners for putting so much time into the process. The majority of the commissioners seem to genuinely want to improve how we fund our schools and the educational success of our students.
  • Many of the student success or outcomes-based funding proposals the commission is considering are an attempt to create greater alignment between Texas public schools and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60×30 plan. The 60×30 plan seeks to ensure at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 have a certificate or degree by 2030.

CPPP supports the 60×30 plan, but we feel that outcomes-based accountability adjustments should happen within the existing school accountability system, and not the school finance system. This commission is supposed to make recommendations about school finance. The role of the accountability system is to set standards and monitor progress toward desired outcomes; the role of the finance system is to ensure school districts have the resources needed to meet those outcomes.

  • Previous school finance commissions, like the Perot Commission, were able to usher in changes to Texas education such as ‘no-pass, no-play,’ which required student athletes to pass their classes in order to play sports. But lawmakers gave the current school finance commission a much narrower scope, focused on funding.
  • Outcomes-based funding – which uses the performance of today’s student to determine the level of investment in tomorrow’s students rather than providing today’s students the resources needed to be successful today – is arbitrary and inefficient. It is not student-based or cost-based.
  • The commission acknowledges that more money is needed in the system but has taken no real actions yet to determine actual costs to provide a high-quality education. The current level of per-student funding (the “basic allotment”) is a completely arbitrary number not tied to any established cost. Instead the Legislature adds or removes funds at will. Our kids deserve better than arbitrary funding levels, and any commission studying public school finance should use academic research to identify the true cost of education our students.
  • We appreciate the long-overdue formula clean-up recommendations from the commission’s expenditures workgroup.

Meanwhile Governor Abbott has floated his own school finance proposal, and it has some major flaws:

  • The Governor’s plan only focuses on property taxes and favors wealthy school districts. Instead, we should focus on lower-wealth schools across the state, where communities have less local funding, less state funding and greater need.
  • The Governor’s plan would be a total departure from over 30 years of case law that has greatly improved equity across the state. The demographics of the state are changing, and this is not the time to go backwards on equity.

We applaud commission member Chairman Dan Huberty for calling on commissioners not to sign onto the final commission report unless it calls for additional new revenue for public schools. CPPP has worked with the commission to identify various possible sources of new revenue.
school finance
At CPPP, we are open to school finance formula changes that improve equity and focus on students with the most need. By equity we mean that all school districts have access to similar levels of revenue at similar tax rates and that children across backgrounds and ZIP codes receive sufficient resources and a high-quality education.
Ultimately the 2019 Legislature will have the final say on remodeling our school finance system. We hope the School Finance Commission will provide specific meaningful recommendations in its final report that are focused on the students and not just on tax swaps.
Texas is a wealthy state, and we can afford to fund public education to ensure the prosperity of our young people far into the future. The commission will vote on its final report December 19. There is still time for the public to tell commissioners to boost funding to public schools. Submit a comment today.

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