(Orange, Texas)

State News

June 24, 2013

Test scores highlight ineffective school funding


AUSTIN, Texas —

Texas has made adjustments over the years to address the gap between students from low-income families — who are 60 percent of the state's student body — and their peers.

The state applies "weights" to its funding calculations, essentially giving more money to districts with students who are low-income, need special education or are English-language learners, for example. But those weights haven't been examined in decades, and they're no longer effective, Thompson said.

Earlier this year, state District Judge John Dietz agreed with Thompson and many of the state's school districts, ruling that by raising academic standards and cutting school funding at the same time, Texas lawmakers have rendered the state's method of financing public schools unconstitutional.

Dietz also found that a rift has emerged between funding for school districts that are considered property poor and districts with higher land values. And he said the Legislature has effectively imposed a statewide property tax in violation of the Texas Constitution because districts have limited taxing capacity left, effectively eliminating local discretion.

Since then, legislators voted to put back $3.4 billion of the $4 billion they cut from public education funding in 2011. They also put the additional money into a funding formula that most benefits districts that are considered property poor — a factor based only on the value of property in the district, which might not reflect the income of families with students attending those schools. Prompted by the changes, Dietz said last week that he will reopen the case.

While calling it a "significant" step in the right direction, those pushing for reform argue that it's not enough, because it doesn't fully restore funding or address the weights.

Some urban districts, such as Austin, Dallas and Houston, will benefit little from the new funds, as they're classified as property wealthy despite having high concentrations of low-income students. Austin, where 64 percent of the student body come from low-income families, will see an increase of only about $11 million a year over the next two years — just 23 percent of what was cut in 2011 — and will continue to face an annual funding gap of $30 million. Elsewhere, in property-poor urban districts — like San Antonio, which will see its funding restored and then some — the weights assigned to their high concentration of low-income students aren't enough to get them ahead, some argue.

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