During the House Appropriations Committee’s first meeting, Texas’ lawmakers went over the Biennial Revenue Estimate (ESF) and stressed the need to use part of the unprecedented surplus towards funding public education.
Everything from budgetary considerations to educational value was discussed by Texas’ Education Agency Commissioner, Mike Morath, and Legislative Budget Board Advisors; Maggie Jebsen, Budget Analyst, and Avery Saxe, Public Education Manager.
A Cautionary Tale?
Comptroller Glenn Hegar started off the hearing by giving a quick overview of the BRE. Texas has $188 billion in General Funds to appropriate, which includes an unprecedented $33 billion surplus. This is a 26 percent increase from what lawmakers had to work with during the last budget cycle. In addition, lawmakers can tap into the roughly $14 billion in the Economic Stabilization Fund.
While Hegar touted this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he also gave the committee some words of caution, warning them not to expect the revenue windfall to continue since there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the ESF.
Are We Increasing Or Decreasing Public Education Funding?
Later on, the LBB gave an overview of spending recommendations, where they highlighted several major funding items; including $15 billion set aside for additional property tax relief, $2.4 billion to increase the yield on the golden pennies, $600 million for school safety and complete funding for the Foundation School Program.
This all seems great. However, Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas) was quick to distrust the amount of overall funding public education was being granted: “are we increasing or decreasing public education funding?”
When taking a look at the general revenue table the LBB provided, there is a drop in public education funding from $40.5 billion in 2022-23 to $38.4 billion in 2024-25 – a 5.1% decrease. However, general revenue funds do not take into account federal funds, which include school property tax relief money.
In the preliminary state budget, the Texas Senate and House earmarked $15 billion in school property tax relief – $9.7 billion would come from the state’s surplus. Placing TEA’s overall budget at $72.5 billion.
So, after being grilled by Rep. Bryant, the LBB confirmed Texas was increasing public education funding. But, it might not be as simple as that.
The investment is good news for property owners and it shifts more of the costs to pay for public schools to the state, but it wouldn’t necessarily translate to funding changes for school districts.
To determine the entitlement for each student, the legislation uses a complex formula that takes into account several factors like basic allotment, property taxes, and state funding – which is distributed to each district depending on their different requirements like special education, bilingual education or low-income district.
On average, according to TEA Commissioner Morath, the entitlement per student is $13,278.
After that is determined, property tax revenue is used to cover as much as possible and the state chips in the rest. How much you raise in property taxes depends on where your district is located; wealthy districts earn more than the entitlement. That extra money is then recaptured and put into the state’s education fund. This process is colloquially known as “Robin Hood.”
“The more recapture funds the state gets, the less revenue they pull from outside sources. So even when property taxes go up, the amount schools receive doesn’t – schools either get less state aid or pay more recapture” Bob Popinski, senior director of policy for Raise Your Hand Texas, told Texas Public Radio.
A Job Engineered to be Very Difficult
Public education funding has many layers to it, and there are a lot of variables that need to be considered whenever a change is to be made. In addition to the complex formulas, there are also demographic factors that need to be taken into account.
Morath stressed to the committee that demographic shifts are showing there are fewer kids per adult, which in turn lead to negative monetary projections in the future. This in turn leads us to the next question by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio): “How does attendance rates affect school?”
In a state where schools are funded with an Average Daily Attendance (ADA) method, every day a child misses school costs the district the per capita funding allotment ($6,160,) meaning thousands of dollars lost per year. This is an extra toll on rural schools who usually have fewer kids enrolled. Even though schools that have less than 5,000 kids enrolled receive extra per pupil funding, Morath suggests the legislature needs to pass an additional policy for rural schools.
Apart from demographic shifts, there was an elephant in the room that the House Appropriations Committee couldn’t ignore: the Texas’ teacher exodus crisis. Why are Texas teachers leaving the profession?
According to TEA, the teacher attrition rate is at 11.6%, the highest it has ever been in the last decade, and teacher pay is at the highest it has been, with the average being $58,887. Texas currently ranks in the bottom ten states across the country for teacher salaries.
“Other than pay, why are teachers leaving?” Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) asked Morath.
Morath attributed it to “work-life balance,” according to TEA data, teachers are spending 7 hours per week preparing their lessons, but they report they are only given 3 hours 45 mins per week on average for all planning activities. This means teachers are going beyond the bell to finish prepping.
In addition, Rep. Ed Thompson (R-Pearland) added that teachers are feeling a lack of respect in their profession. There are tenured teachers in the field that have been teaching for over 20 years and are only making $60,000 a year, which is not much different from where they started out. Not only is pay the issue, many feel disrespected by politicians who have been on a political warpath trying to undermine their authority with parental choice gimmicks.