Last week on the Educate for Texas blog, Dr. Jerry R. Burkett tackled the problems facing education funding in Texas. The problem did not start with the funding cuts in the 82nd Legislature, Dr. Burkett argued. In fact, it started in 1984.
In the 83rd Regular Legislative Session, if you can remember that far back, Democrats under the dome managed to restore $3.9 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from education funding in the 82nd Legislature. Certainly, any attempt to restore funding to public education in Texas is a valiant effort. However, Burkett argues, this is not nearly enough.
More on our 22 year old funding formula after the jump.The distribution of funds to school districts in Texas is based on a formula, the Cost of Education Index, or CEI. This formula, as Burkett explains, was commissioned in 1984, developed in 1991, and has not been changed since. So, just what does the CEI do? According to the Texas Education Agency,
The current CEI attempts to adjust for varying economic conditions across the state, based mainly on the size of the district, the teacher salaries of neighboring districts, and the percentage of low-income students in the district in 1989-1990. The index has not been updated since that time.
The baselines that we use to determine cost and need are over twenty years out of date. Texas has changed dramatically over the last two decades, as Burkett points out:
- There were 3,378,318 students enrolled in public schools in 1990-91. Today there are 4,978,120. A 47.35% increase.
- In 1989, 24.3% of Texas children were living in poverty. In 2011, that number has risen to 30%.
- As late as 1994, 46% of Texas students were on free or reduced lunch; that increased to 60.4% in 2011.
- Students enrolled in bilingual/ESL programs have increased from 9.7% in 1992 to 16.2% in 2011.
Perhaps it isn't surprising that legislators in our state seem so baffled by demands for fully funding our public schools. It is difficult to have a good grasp on what our education system needs to be adequately funded when the baseline was set while there was still a Soviet Union. This static formula resulted in severe underfunding, even before the budget cuts during the 82nd Legislature. According to one witness in the school funding lawsuits,
Texas school districts are $6 billion per year behind where they need to be, and this is before the funding reductions of last session (82nd) are taken into account.
As the results of the school finance lawsuits unfold, Texas faces a crisis in public education. Will the legislature meet the needs of our students and bring education funding into the 21st century? Only time will tell.