Commission Seeks Input on School Financing in Texas

Texas education leaders are battling with the state's school finance commission ahead of next year's legislative session.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, sits on the finance committee, which is holding public hearings on whether to change the so-called "Robin Hood" plan and hear how schools can operate more efficiently.

“We had Cy-Fair Independent School District testifying, they have about half of the average administrative expense in the state and yet they manage to put 71 percent of their money actually into classroom expense,” says Bettencourt.

However, he admits it is complex problem.

“What's working now?  How are we spending our dollars doing that?  What do we want to change from the outcomes in the future?  What do we want to incentivize?  How do we spend our dollars wisely?”

State lawmakers in 2011 cut $5 billion from school funding to instead focus raising property tax revenue for schools.

Chandra Villanueva, senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, calls it another attempt to cut school funding.  She says the current “Robin Hood” method and funding through property taxes don't cut it anymore.

“When districts start generating a certain level of funding, the state takes it and redistributes it to districts that aren't able to generate as much funding,” she says.  “We also put caps on our property tax, so you could easily hit your cap and not be able to raise your taxes any further.”

State lottery dollars are just a small portion of what the state does provide for public schools.  “If you take all of the lottery money that goes to education it would pay for about five or six days of school total,” says Villanueva.

The current per pupil payout starts at $5,100, but Villanueva says that varies for individual districts.  She says studies show should actually start about $1,000 more. 

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