The Lesson of School Finance
The ongoing lawsuit regarding the state’s public school system is expected to come to a head in May, when Travis County district judge John Dietz could issue his ruling. The question is whether Texas’s funding of public schools is inadequate, and, therefore, violates the Texas constitution’s imprimatur in Article VII that a “general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
In a preliminary ruling last year, Dietz ruled against the state but wanted to hear arguments about whether increased two-year funding in 2013 changed his mind. (Readers will recall that the Legislature made $5 billion in cuts to public education in 2011 and restored much of these cuts in 2012.) So, how does the court decide whether Texas has failed to meet the standards required by the Constitution? The simple way is to look at recent figures released by the National Education Association. They will do nothing to dissuade the view that Texas still falls woefully short of providing “a general diffusion of knowledge” to its school population. At one point it had fallen to 49th nationally in per-pupil funding among the states; there has been a marginal improvement to 46th, but its funding is still $464 less than it was in the 2010-11 school year. Moreover, what it spends on average per student — $8,998 — is well below the national average of $11,674.
This ought to be an embarrassment to state leaders, but they have shown little interest in improving the funding of education. This is what education policy has come to in Texas today. Most lawmakers are more interested in political issues than in improving critical state services.