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Government/Politics

Lawmakers Highlight Education Spending Divide And Point To Fixing Formula Funding

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Ryan Poppe | Texas Public Radio

Lawmakers in Austin are examining the ins and outs of the state’s school finance system  ahead of the 2017 legislative session, where funding may be limited.  The state’s highest court found the system to be constitutional, yet inadequate, and now some lawmakers are pushing to change the state formulas that may fund your child’s education
 
The state’s current school finance formula is essentially made from two sources, state money given out to school districts as a whole through the legislature’s two budget cycle and through property taxes.

According to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, property taxes bring in $52-billion dollars a year.
 
 
But the group’s president Dale Craymer told the joint session of the House Public Education and Appropriations committee that as property values increase, under the current school funding formula, it is the state, not local school districts that benefit.
 
 
“Say for example this “poor district,” its values increase from one year to the next and it gets up to the level of the average district, what happens is the amount of state aide it receives declines," Craymer explains.
 
 
State lawmakers have to spend less on schools and the increase in property taxes gets redistributed to poorer school districts.
 
 
Houston Democrat, Rep. Harold Dutton says the problem is not every district has the same needs, it costs a district with a higher level of special needs students or English Language Learner students more to operate than other school districts.
 
 
“If the formulas and weights are supposed to cover the costs of those kids and ignoring the property wealth of a district, if those two are not in sync with each other than it seems to me that even if we try to fix it today then it will be broke tomorrow," Dutton says.
 
 
And it is for this reason that Dayton Republican Rep. John Otto, the chair of the House’s Appropriations Committee says the legislature can’t just throw money at school finance and expect the problem to go away, he says it is the up the legislature to fix funding formulas that is weighted by the needs of each student.
 
 
“The thing I hope that comes out of this hearing is that we need to quit the special outside the formula funding, because all we are doing is making matters worse.  If we were putting that money in the basic allotment at least we are treating everyone fairly," Otto says.
 
 
Texas currently ranks 38th in the country on per student spending while the state is facing an estimated $1-billion dollar budget shortfall heading into the 2017 legislative session.