Earlier this month, researchers with the Albert Shanker Institute, the University of Miami, and Rutgers University released a report that evaluated school funding levels across all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and found, yet again, that Texas schools are direly underfunded. The Adequacy and Fairness of State School Finance Systems, which looked at funding data from the 2020-2021 school year, found that just over 91% of Texas public school students attended inadequately funded schools that year.
In explaining their methodology, researchers acknowledged that some student populations require more resources to educate and that various states are in dramatically different economic situations. Thus, simply comparing the average amount spent per student does not provide the full picture. In the researchers’ own words, “The key question, then, is not just how much states and districts spend but whether it’s enough—is funding adequate for students from all backgrounds to achieve common outcome goals?”
To provide that fuller picture and a more accurate means of comparison, the report evaluates school funding based upon three “core indicators”:
- Statewide Adequacy, which compares a state’s aggregate per-pupil spending with the amount of spending that would be necessary to achieve test scores at or above the national average
- Equal Opportunity, which evaluates whether those adequate funding gaps are evenly distributed across the state or concentrated in lower-income areas (i.e., whether funding is equitably — not necessarily equally — distributed across higher- and lower- poverty districts)
- Fiscal Effort, which takes into account broader economic conditions of a state by considering the amount spent by a state on education as a percentage of the state’s total economic output
Based on these metrics, Texas’ school finance profile reveals a dire situation. When it comes to “statewide adequacy,” Texas ranks 44th out of 50 states (plus D.C.) in terms of the percentage of children attending inadequately funded schools (91%). Additionally, Texas ranks 47th in terms of the percentage of students attending chronically inadequately funded schools, i.e., schools that are the bottom 20% in terms of funding adequacy. The percentage of inadequately funded schools far outpaces both the statewide and regional average. The state has remained over one standard deviation below adequate funding levels since 2011, the first year included in the report.
In fact, Texas’ inadequate state funding is so extreme that it skews the results of the “equal opportunity” metric. According to the report, school districts across the poverty spectrum are all below adequate funding level. While the adequacy gap of school districts in the most impoverished quintile (-58.7%) are significantly below the adequacy gap of students in the wealthiest quintile (-13.9%), the fact that all quintiles were less than adequately funded skewed the results to make it seem more equal based on the specific methodology of the report.
Texas’s fiscal effort is less than the national average with 3.45% of its gross state product (GSP) going toward education, as opposed to the national average of 3.53%. This level of effort has decreased significantly, by .22 percentage points, since before the Great Recession in 2006. Texas’s fiscal effort has been below the national average since 2011.
Additionally, Texas was highlighted as one of 10 states in which 60% of the nation’s students identified as being in “chronically underfunded” districts reside, despite these states only serving about 30% of the nation’s students:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
The report offers several broadly applicable policy recommendations. Of these, perhaps the most applicable to Texas is the recommendation to “increase state aid in amounts commensurate with funding gaps.” Considering Texas’s projected $18.6 billion surplus for the current biennium and nearly capped out Economic Stabilization Fund (Rainy Day Fund), this could be accomplished with ease.
Throughout the 88th regular legislative session and in each of the subsequent four special sessions, Texas AFT called on the Legislature to increase state funding to Texas public schools by raising the basic allotment, but in each of these five legislative sessions, the Legislature did not act. In response to the release of this report, Texas AFT published a press release calling on the Legislature, once again, to rectify the chronic underfunding of Texas’ public schools.