Public Education Funding: Chasing the Wrong Rabbit


As shown very conclusively in the following information, the solution is not throwing more money at the many deep-rooted problems in the Texas public school system. For the Texas public school system has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.


Texas public school districts spent 31% more per student in fiscal year 2003 than in fiscal year 1997 (per Texas Education Agency). Yet Texas’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased only 13% in that period (per Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics). This constant overspending certainly isn’t being matched by any improvement whatsoever in Texas students’ graduation rates and performances on the SAT and ACT exams (the real final proof of the pudding, not the interim and manipulative TAAS and selective NAEP testing).


The Texas legislature will make a grievous fiduciary mistake if, in trying to resolve the “Robin Hood” controversy, it increases total state spending by more than the very reasonable cap of combined increase in population and CPI (or mandated local school district spending per student by more than CPI).


Please take time to read the following crucial information regarding:

  1. Texas Educational Performance Versus The Other States

  2. U. S. Education System Versus The Other Industrialized Countries

  3. A Case Study That Settles The Issue, Once And For All



Graduation Rates: Forty-one other states have a higher high school graduation rate than does Texas, according to the latest information (1998-99 school year) from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center For Education Statistics (NCES). Only one state bordering Mexico (New Mexico) has a worse high school graduation rate than Texas. NCES computed the graduation rate by dividing the current year graduates by the 9th grade enrollment three years previously. This is a much more accurate method and realistic computation than the Texas Education Agency’s convoluted method, which has become the subject of a lawsuit.


Students’ Scholastic Performance: TEA and several Texas ISDs have made a great deal about the dramatic improvement in the TAAS scores of their students and most particularly the dramatic closing of the gap between TAAS scores of Anglos and of the economically disadvantaged groups. They have also pointed to Texas’ economically disadvantaged students making the most strides nationally on the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing conducted by the NCES (see previous reference to NCES).


The reasons for the dramatic rise in TAAS scores and the closing of the gap between Anglos and economically disadvantaged groups were very well laid out in the report rendered a short time back by the outstanding independent educational researchers funded by the Tax Research Association of Houston and Harris County. TRA was, in turn, funded by some of Houston’s leading corporations. The TRA funded report said quite simply that the TAAS has been continually watered down each year, compares poorly against the accountability systems of certain other states, and does not test beyond grade level. In short, the dramatic improvement and gap closing were very predictable and meaningless.


Regardless of the real or imagined previous improvement at various grade levels, on either TAAS or NAEP testing, the rubber actually hits the road when it comes time to take college entrance tests. And keep in mind that a very high percentage of the economically disadvantaged students never even graduate from high school, let alone take the college entrance exams. In other words, the college entrance exam results are heavily skewed by the residual over representation of white students.


In 1989, Texas students’ average performance on the SAT verbal exceeded that of only 6 states, while they exceeded the performance of only 5 states on the SAT math. By 2001, Texans outperformed only 3 states on the SAT verbal and just 2 states on the SAT math. In 1994, Texas students outperformed just 9 other states on the ACT and just 10 in 2001. So the Texas public school system basically lost ground overall from what already was a very poor performance level on college entrance exams.

Texas’ poor comparative performance should not be due to too large of class sizes. Only 19 of the other 49 states have smaller average class sizes than Texas, according to the NCES. So spending more money to reduce Texas’ class sizes will have doubtful results.


Some would have you believe that Texas’ poor performance on the college entrance exams is due to its high percentage of minorities and ESL students. Exhibit A below for 2001 shows the fallacy of that argument.



Exhibit A - 2001



























19.5 (note A)

NOTE A:  ACT differentiates nationally between Mexican-American (which I have used here due to its larger population in Houston) and Puerto Rican/Hispanic, which were 20.5 



According to the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s most recent study, “The physics and advanced mathematics component of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tested a subgroup of students who had taken courses in these advanced subjects. The results showed that U.S. students in 12th grade who had taken courses in physics or advanced mathematics did not perform as well, on average, as their counterparts in most other countries who had taken similar courses. In physics, the average score of U.S. students was lower than that of students in every participating country except Austria. In advanced mathematics, U.S. students scored lower than students in 11 of 16 participating countries, the exceptions being Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria.”


That should make you weep for the competitive future of the U.S. economy as well as the very fabric of our society.


Money is not the answer, and certainly not federal money with the inevitable related intervention in local affairs. Austria and Switzerland are the only countries in the world that spend more money per secondary school student than does the U.S., per the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Clearly, the U.S. public school system is failing us, but not because of a lack of funding.



Following is excerpted from the Cato Institutes's Policy Paper No. 298:


Kansas City Experience Leaves No Doubt: Money Can’t Solve School Problems

"Kansas City did all the things that educators had always said needed to be done to increase student achievement—it reduced class size, decreased teacher workload, increased teacher pay, and dramatically expanded spending per pupil—but none of it worked," concludes a new Cato Institute Policy Analysis published today. In his study, Paul Ciotti looks at an important but little appreciated lesson from Kansas City’s 12-year experience with a massive desegregation experiment ordered and managed by a federal court judge. The results have profound implications for the congressional debate this week over federal education policy.

In "Money and School Performance: Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment," Ciotti describes in detail the efforts of federal Judge Russell Clark, from the time he took partial control of the Kansas City schools in 1985 until he finally withdrew a year ago this month.

Clark "invited the school district to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it. Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil—more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room. . . . The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country," Ciotti notes.

"The idea was that Kansas City would be a demonstration project in which the best and most modern educational thinking would for once be combined with the judicial will and the financial resources to do the job right." By the time the experiment ended, Clark’s plan had gone through more than $2 billion.

"The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration. . . . The situation in Kansas City was both a major embarrassment and an ideological setback for supporters of increased public schools."


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