For many school districts their main challenge, at least as far as funding is concerned, is finding a balance between using their funds frugally, and maximizing it’s use to bolster student achievement across the board. This is the measurement of the ‘adequacy’ of the district. Another goal of funding should be the assurance that the money is used with ‘equity’ in mind. That is, that it is equally distributed to all groups within the student population; from special education to the gifted and talented students. Educational ‘equality’ has persisted as being the biggest challenge to come to fruition. Racial, gender and special needs equality (even for undocumented students) is certainly one of the most noble causes to our government strives for, yet often falls short in providing equal opportunity to each category from one school district to the next. These ideals of the adequacy, equity and equality of public education are still upheld, even though there is no actual right to public education in our constitution.
The value of public schools in our society is immeasurable. The term ‘human capital’ is used as one assessment to the role they play in our economy and society in general. Public schools prepare students to not only enter college, but also prepare a large percentage to directly enter the workforce through CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs. When our economy experiences recessions the day-to-day lives of Americans are affected, not many people consider how public education weathers those fiscal storms. School revenue/expenditure, teacher tenure and pensions suffer when the economy takes a downturn.
During the recession of 2008 schools began to rely more on federal stimulus funding since state revenues dropped. Local taxation dropped and federal funds were needed to fill gaps – unfortunately federal funding was also cut severely. Shifts in the usage of funds in schools was notable: non instructional student services and extracurricular programs (especially in the arts) were cut, and these cuts still have not rebounded, sadly. Here in Texas, state funding is rather low, ranking 36th nationally, with just over $9,000 per student.
Teacher pay in Texas may be considered average (coming in at 27th nationally), however teacher pensions are far worse, last place nationally in fact. Texas does not pay into Social Security for teachers, only in a pension fund called TRS (Teacher Retirement System), not only that but they only pay in the bare minimum that the state requires – around a measly 6%! Add to this the fact that health insurance premiums for teachers goes up more every than teacher pay and it becomes clear that teachers are certainly reeling from the last recession still. Some of our substitute teachers in Nacogdoches ISD are in their 70’s. When I’ve questioned them as to why they aren’t at home enjoying their hard-earned retirement, they reply that they can’t if they would like to enjoy the benefit of their much needed health insurance – so sad (as well as motivating for me to earn my graduate degree and further my career!).
Home owners in Texas can often be heard complaining that their property taxes are too expensive. This is due in large part to the fact that the State of Texas is paying less and less when it comes to funding education. In fact, I have heard the idea that the state is ‘starving’ public school to push the agenda on private or voucher funded schools. School districts that fall short in funding from the state often look to cover the deficit with local property taxes. Thus a battle rages between homeowners and school districts – homeowners are upset with the district, and the district claims it is the fault of the state for not paying their fair share for the human capital that the district provides to the economy. In Texas school districts spend approximately 27 billion dollars on the education of its youth, taxpayers contribute around 18 billion of that. House Bill 21 was passed in 2017 which aims to decrease the pressure on property taxes in the state – however this Bill never became law – due to the attempt to pork belly ‘private school choice’. This is a serious issue since the trends show that state funding of education is going down instead of up. School bonds have become increasing popular in the battle of student population growth, aging school facilities, and school equipment or technology needs. Nacogdoches ISD certainly suffers due to these same challenges, and is in the process of attempting to pass a bond once again. Like many things in Texas, school funding seems to be about 30 years behind the rest of the country, and it’s the youth of the state that pay the ultimate price.
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