Fact Check: Are Texas schools secretly better funded than ever before? 

Gov. Greg Abbott and some Republican lawmakers have recently claimed that Texas is funding public education at its highest level ever despite the high-profile failure of the 88th Texas Legislature to increase the basic allotment or provide raises for educators and school employees when those bipartisan priorities were held hostage for universal voucher legislation. 

This concocted narrative is dishonest and misleading. Per-student spending has decreased by $590 in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 10 years according to the state’s Legislative Budget Board (LBB). Additionally, an Austin-American Statesman analysis of public education funding in recent years found that, “adjusted to 2024 dollars, per-student funding from state and local sources is down by 12.9% — $10,387 this year [2023-24] compared with $11,919 per student in 2020.” Rather than growing the state share, which dropped to 43.8% in 2023 (40.8% if you include facilities funding), state spending has been supplanted by growth in local spending (and recapture) and artificially bolstered by temporary federal COVID-relief funding set to expire this fall ($6 billion total or ~$1,400 per student more than usual in 2022). 

The state had a historic surplus of approximately $33 billion in the last legislative session. The governor’s own Teacher Vacancy Task Force listed increasing the basic allotment so school districts could provide substantial compensation and benefits increases as their top recommendation for mitigating the exodus of teachers from the classroom. The Texas Legislature did nothing to support our public schools as districts’ finances have been strained to the limit by historic inflation (up to 19% on everything including supplies, utilities, and other school operational expenses) and new unfunded mandates. 

Instead, the Texas Legislature pumped billions of dollars into local property tax compression – or the use of state funds to pay down local property taxes – swapping a more stable source of public education funding with volatile sales taxes collected by the state. These state funds are often counted as being used for education by people claiming that public education is funded at its highest level ever, even though none of it is being applied to student learning and instruction.  

They also count funding to cover enrollment growth (the state paying its existing bills), one-time investments made to provide for Teachers Retirement System (TRS) retirees’ long-overdue cost-of-living adjustment, the temporary federal funding mentioned above, and funding for new state mandates such as school safety, though the amount appropriated for school safety is nowhere close to the actual costs incurred by districts.  

It is disingenuous to include these sources of funding in the count of new public education spending. Their inclusion is a political calculation made so politicians like Abbott can claim that public education has reached “historic spending levels.” In fact, no new funding was allocated to meet the needs of our students, educators, and school employees

The latest school funding proposal came in the form of HB 1 filed by House Public Education Committee Chairman Brad Buckley in the fourth special session of the 88th Texas Legislature. HB 1 was the omnibus school finance, voucher, and testing bill which would have provided for a modest increase to the basic allotment ($540 in the first year, far short of the $1,000 needed to account for inflation at the time) and added a new inflation adjustment mechanism to take effect in the 2026-2027 school year. Our public schools’ financial situations have only grown more dire since then. As budget expert Eva deLuna Castro noted, “current CPA economic forecast indicates the Basic Allotment would have to be almost $7,950 by fiscal 2027 to make up for inflation since the last increase in Fall 2019.” 

Public schools can no longer “do more with less.” School districts across the state adopted deficit budgets in the last school year while providing modest raises in anticipation of receiving increased funding from the state which never came. Some are now utilizing Voter-Approval Tax Rate Elections (VATREs) to generate additional funding, but even with that tool available to help meet operational costs like providing and sustaining raises, an increasing number of them are facing the prospect of school closures, layoffs, and pay cuts. 

Texas remains 41st among all states in per-student public education funding, and the average teachers’ salary is more than $7,700 less than the national average. In addition to the need for substantial raises for educators and school employees, Texas school districts are facing a large and growing “special education funding gap” – the difference between the special education funding received from the state and what they spend on special education. The “special education funding gap” was $2.28 billion in 2021-2022 and increased to $2.37 in 2022-2023. The Texas Legislature did nothing to close the “special education funding gap” in 2023, instead handing down yet another unfunded mandate in the form of new school safety requirements – both capital-intensive improvements required to school buildings and an incredibly expensive new requirement that each campus must be protected by at least one armed security guard (estimated at a cost of $80,000 to $100,000 per year, according to the Texas Association of School Boards). Once again, school districts have been left to do the heavy lifting on their own. 

To make matters worse, school districts are set to lose more than $300 million a year in special education funding due to a recent federal administrative decision and the state recently passed up an estimated $450 million for a program to help parents in low-income households feed their children during the summer. 

Texas public schools are facing a manufactured crisis due to the lack of state support and the state’s prioritization of property tax cuts over fully funding our public schools. Anyone who claims that public education is fully funded clearly has a political agenda and is trying to distract from their failure to support our students, educators, and school employees. As a union of educators and school employees, our members experience the reality of this failure in their daily lives – from increasing class sizes to janitors with impossible workloads to droves of experienced educators leaving the classroom and being replaced by uncertified educators with no preparation. 

It’s no wonder that public education officials across the state are sounding the alarm in their local communities regarding the dire circumstances our public schools are facing, or that Attorney General Ken Paxton and others seek to crack down on educators informing people about the stakes of the November elections. 

We must continue our aggressive advocacy through the May runoff elections and November general election to preserve a pro-public education majority in the Texas House of Representatives and prepare for a fight to both protect public education from the threat of vouchers and finally receive the funding we deserve in the 89th legislative session.