School Finance Commission hears state of education funding, expenditure recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s Revenues Working Group met Tuesday to hear the current state of public education funding in Texas and review recommendations from the Commission’s Expenditures Working Group–a group of commission members tasked with recommendations for changes on how public education money is spent.

On the funding front, Education Commissioner Mike Morath outlined that education spending in total was $60 billion for the 2016-17 school year (including federal funds), that state and local spending has increased about $1 billion a year. While this sounds like a significant increase, remember that per-pupil funding–adjusted for inflation–has actually decreased since 2008. Commissioners also heard from Morath that TEA’s budget request for the next biennium is actually $3.5 billion less than the previous budget, because of rising local property values.

Also discussed was the dispute between the School Land Board–with Land Commissioner George P. Bush at the helm of this three-member commission–and members of the State Board of Education. The School Land Board, which disperses funds through the state’s public school endowment, made a decision to transfer $600 million directly to the Available School Fund, instead of the usual transfer to the State Board of Education for dispersement.

While it’s often safe to consider state money as one big pot–no matter what the names of individual funds are–the move has implications in this instance. First, the commission heard figures from Morath that the School Land Board was transferring $150 million less than the previous biennium. Additionally, the transfer to the Available School Fund instead of the SBOE could result in a significant loss of funding for instructional materials for property-poor districts, according to SBOE member David Bradley.

State Rep. Dan Huberty of Houston told commissioners that there is a “philosophical difference” on how best to invest money from the School Land Board. The Texas Tribune reported that while Bush initially was open to reconsidering the transfer decision, that Friday likely would have been the deadline for any changes because of action needed at the SBOE.

Previous Hotlines covered the recommendations from the Expenditures Working Group, including new allotments in funding for dyslexia and early childhood education, as well as an increase in the weighted funding for bilingual education.  (You can view the full list and presentation on recommendations here.)

The Commission is now under a tight timelines–with its final report anticipated to be finished by the end of the year–and its working groups and/or the full body are expected to meet several more times before then.