How efficient are schools with their money?
Some like to perpetuate the myth that schools are wasteful and inefficient. But according to the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas, 91 percent of school districts, with over 98 percent of the state’s students, earned a “Superior Achievement” rating from the state’s auditors.

In any large organization, there are always efficiencies to be made. Very few would suggest that public schools are perfect. But the fact remains that Texas’s per-pupil funding is one of the lowest in the nation (40th out of 50), and we were the only state to actually see per-pupil expenditures decrease over the last year. Further, our teachers are paid $6,000 less than the national average.

Some have suggested that there is too much waste in central administration. According to the Public Education Information Management System of the Texas Education Agency, only 6 percent of public education money is spent on central administration.

Saving a few pennies here and there will not fix the systemic problems with school finance in Texas. Shifting the focus from the level of funding that is needed to whether schools are efficient seems to be an effort by some to distract the public from the real problem: an under-investment in Texas schools.

Would consolidation of school districts save money?
Yes. As the Texas Supreme Court said in its recent decision on school finance: “Many districts have been created as tax havens – lots of property and few students – allowing property owners to escape paying their fair share of the cost of public education in Texas and making it more difficult to achieve efficiency.” There are over 1,000 districts spread out over 254 counties in Texas. More than 500 of those districts have 700 or fewer students. And 11 of them have less than 60 students.

Consolidating schools could definitely provide savings to the state. But consolidation is a very difficult thing to accomplish politically. Local communities are usually fiercely protective of their school districts. One compromise to this challenge is to consolidate tax bases, letting districts share their funding bases but keep their local school community control and oversight. This would make the system both more efficient and less expensive to equalize.

Still, a subcommittee of the House Public Education Committee will explore the possibility of consolidation.

What is the 65% rule? Will it impact my local school?
On August 22, 2005 – just days after the legislature failed in a second special session on school finance – Governor Rick Perry ordered every district to devote 65 percent of all revenue to “classroom instruction.”

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. But proponents of the 65 percent rule don’t take into account all of the legitimate spending in education that happens outside the classroom: counseling, libraries, security, transportation, food service, utilities, data processing and nursing are not directly related to classroom instruction and thus could be cut if the 65 percent rule is strictly enforced. The state’s Education Commissioner has convened a task force to work out the details of implementing the rule. To this point, it has made no recommendations.

The costs of education are high. Shifting money away from vital needs like libraries, transportation, nursing and counseling will not fix the problems. More than likely, it is just a trick to shift focus away from equity and from providing enough funding for all schools.

See other questions and answers about the ruling and related issues