To fix broken system, Texans must understand it
Amarillo Globe News
July 13, 2005
Guest Column: Byron Schlomach,
AUSTIN - With the special session on school finance and taxation currently under
way, Texans need basic knowledge in order to cut through the political rhetoric.
Much of how our current system operates is not exactly how it was intended to
operate, and it remains broken.
Here are some easily understood facts about how the system does - and does not -
Fact No. 1: Rising property values help finance state government. Through the
funding formulas and the Robin Hood equalization system, the state determines
how much money each school district is entitled to.
If local property taxes are less, the state makes up the difference. If they are
more, the state takes the difference. Rising property values mean less state
money is needed, freeing state resources to fund other things.
Fact No. 2: In the 1990s alone, inflation-adjusted per-student spending
increased by one-fifth and has tripled since 1970. No more than a handful of
school districts have failed to grow spending in excess of enrollment growth and
Fact No. 3: The United States gets a poor rate of return on its education
spending compared to other nations. The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the World Bank all
have noted that the U.S. academically achieves less than other nations that
spend far less on public education.
Fact No. 4: Only half of current public school employees in Texas are classified
as classroom teachers.
Fact No. 5: There are currently fewer than 15 students for every teacher in
Texas. In 1960, there were about 24 students for every teacher. Teachers once
outnumbered non-teachers, and SAT scores were as good or better compared to
Fact No. 6: Robin Hood is a scapegoat. Whether an administrator or school board
member is from a rich district or a poor district, Robin Hood is always at fault
for the district's academic woes. Either it is claimed too much money is taken
away from the district or not enough is received. Only more money will cure
whatever ails a school district, according to local officials.
Fact No. 7: Well-constructed economic research from noted economists Eric
Hanushek, Carolyn Hoxby and Richard Vedder, among others, repeatedly shows that
additional funding for schools is not the answer. The largest single employer,
though not the largest industry, in virtually every community is the local
school district. Many legislators support more money for schools, even though
they know it will not necessarily improve test scores or dropout rates.
Fact No. 8: Arguments for equity are arguments for spending and spending alone;
not about kids. Equity guarantees that no district can spend significantly more
than any other. If one district's taxpayers agree to spend more money, every
district's taxpayers spend more money through the state system. (See Facts 2
Fact No. 9: The system is designed, purposely or not, to extract more taxpayer
money. The courts have said that when districts reach a tax rate limit, we have
a de facto statewide property tax, which is illegal. Therefore, the state must
constantly bribe districts to reduce tax rates with more state money. Meanwhile,
property values continue to rise, reducing the state share, giving an excuse for
local officials to raise rates back where they were.
Fact No. 10: School districts are encouraged to tax at the maximum possible
rate. The greater the local tax rate, the greater the state subsidy to local
Currently proposed legislation would make this even worse, guaranteeing future
biannual "buy downs" of local tax rates with state money.
Fact No. 11: School officials are encouraged to categorize children. This is
because districts get more money for bilingual education than for regular
Unfortunately, current legislation does little to solve the problems outlined
Ultimately, the only solution is for the state to define a satisfactory
educational system as one that provides enough teachers and classrooms and
materials to teach capable children the basics, including English immersion.
We already more than achieve such a level of funding. We just need to use it
Byron Schlomach, who holds a doctorate in economics, is the chief economist for
the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit research institute based in