Fully Funded, Fully Respected
The Path to Thriving Texas Public Schools
A joint report by Texas AFT & Every Texan
The state of Texas spends roughly $3,314 less per student than the national average each year1According to data compiled by the Education Data Initiative, public schools nationally provide an average of $13,185 of funding per student, whereas Texas public schools provide an average of $9,871 per student. The difference between these two amounts is $3,314.. That adds up to about $18 billion less spent on Texas public schools than elsewhere in the United States2If Texas spent $3,314 more on each of its 5,427,370 students, it would spend $17,986,304,180 more than it currently does..
$18 billion is a substantial sum, but not when looking at the state’s budget as a whole, which sits at a record $188.2 billion for the upcoming biennium (the two-year budget period between legislative sessions).
Notably, $18 billion is much less than the state budget surplus — $32.7 billion — reported by the Texas comptroller’s office.
There is no fiscal reason why Texas, a state that boasts the world’s ninth-largest economy, should be spending $18 billion less each year on its public schools. Likewise, there is no fiscal reason that Texas educators’ real pay should have declined over the past decade or that school support staff in Texas schools should be earning wages close to the federal poverty threshold, as we reported in our joint publication, The Lost Decade, in 2022.
The money is in the budget. The outstanding question is whether the political will exists.
There could not be a greater sense of urgency.
A full 70% of Texas AFT members — a group that includes teachers, counselors, bus drivers, nurses, and all other non-administrative school employees — surveyed in 2022 said they were seriously considering leaving their jobs, up four percentage points from the year prior.
We already know the consequences if any significant percentage of those employees decide to follow through on their plans: overcrowded classrooms, overwhelmed educators, less personal attention for students who need it most, and even higher attrition rates for the employees left behind.
In this report, we have endeavored to put a price tag on a different future, one in which lawmakers prioritize respect for public schools and their employees and one in which we work together to build a public education system that helps Texas children thrive.
Often, we are asked what “fully funded” means in terms of Texas public schools. Below, we provide an answer to that question for this biennium.
Our Respect Agenda
Minimum $10,000 Raise for Teachers & Certified Staff
Investment Required: $8,879,847,042 per biennium
At this point, there is little argument among any serious parties about the need to pay Texas teachers for the worth of their work. Educators have made the need for more respectful compensation abundantly clear in surveys, interviews, and focus groups. The Texas Education Agency’s Teacher Vacancy Task Force included pay raises as a central component of its retention strategy recommendations.
It is not, however, just teachers who need a significant raise in their base pay. Every school employee is suffering the effects of stagnant pay and rampant inflation. A minimum $10,000 across-the-board raise is necessary not only for teachers, but for all staff on the certified salary schedule3librarians, nurses, speech pathologists, and counselors.
To arrive at the cost of such a raise for all certified school staff, we multiplied the most recent staffing totals by $10,000.
- 369,763 teachers42021-2022 total full-time teaching employees
- 4,382.22 librarians52021-2022 total full-time librarians
- 6,467.81 nurses62021-2022 total full-time nurses
- 5,515.77 speech pathologists72021-2022 total full-time speech pathologists
- 13,864.31 counselors82021-2022 total full-time counselors
The total for a $10,000 raise for all of these employees amounts to $3,999,931,100 per year.
The $10,000 raise, however, would cause the state and districts to increase their contributions to the TRS pension fund and TRS-ActiveCare fund. This adds an additional 11% to the cost of raising salaries9Over the next biennium, the state of Texas contributes 8.25% of payroll to the pension fund and .75% of payroll to the TRS-Care fund. School districts contribute 2% of payroll to the pension fund..
That brings the total for these raises to $4,439,923,521 per year, or $8,879,847,042 per biennium10To calculate that cost over the biennium, the amount was doubled..
Minimum 15% Raise for All Non-Certified Staff
Investment Required: $3,738,206,074 per biennium
In The Lost Decade, we noted the tremendously low pay for paraprofessional and auxiliary staff in our public schools, two categories that include a wide variety of employees, like education aides, certified interpreters, bus drivers, food service workers, electricians, plumbers, and technology specialists.
Together, these employees make up more than 35% of school personnel in Texas. Yet, the average base pay for auxiliary staff is $28,727 and just $22,221 for paraprofessionals.
To arrive at the cost of a 15% raise for all non-certified school staff, 15% was taken from the total payroll for non-certified staff, which includes multiple employee categories:
- $825,067,551112021-2022 total auxiliary staff base pay ($5,500,450,340) x 15% for all auxiliary staff12bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, etc.
- $287,774,405132021-2022 total paraprofessional staff base pay ($1,918,496,033) x 15% for all paraprofessional staff
- $571,034,652142021-2022 total support staff base pay ($5,797,002,618) x 15% for all support staff15coaches, transportation, non-certified counselors, etc. (excluding full-time librarians, nurses, speech pathologists, and counselors on the certified salary schedule)
The total for a 15% raise for all of these employees amounts to $1,683,876,610 per year.
The 15% raise, however, would cause the state and districts to increase their contributions to the TRS pension fund and TRS-ActiveCare fund. This adds an additional 11% to the cost of raising salaries16Over the next biennium, the state of Texas contributes 8.25% of payroll to the pension fund and .75% of payroll to the TRS-Care fund. School districts contribute 2% of payroll to the pension fund..
That brings the total for these raises to $1,869,103,037 per year, or $3,738,206,074 per biennium17To calculate that cost over the biennium, the amount was doubled..
Why we need it
“What do I want the state to do to support us? Don’t leave us behind. A raise of 15% would help me very much to take care of my mom. She’s 87 years old. She depends on me. To be able to share more with my family, with my husband, with my daughter, with my granddaughter. To also be able to enjoy a weekend with something extra — go out to dinner, to the movies. Not like we are right now, that we’re only working for the bills.”Fressy Molina, a custodian in Judson ISD
Fully Staffing Teachers to Recommended Class Size Ratios
Investment Required: $1,398,231,128 per biennium
In statute, the state mandates that all classrooms in Pre-K through Grade 4 be capped at 22 students and that teachers in Grades 5 through 12 must average at or under 20 students per class across the district. In reality, there are two different ways to avoid state class size mandates:
- by filing a TEA class size waiver
- through a District of Innovation exemption
Last year, 100% of class size waivers were approved by TEA.
To calculate the number of teachers that the state would need in classrooms to meet its own recommended ratios, we added the number of teachers missing (determined by submitted class size waivers) to the number of teachers missing (determined by DOI exemptions).
Last year, a total of 2,903 class size waivers were filed and approved by TEA.
Districts with class size DOI exemptions do not have to submit waivers, so there is no count on how many teachers those districts are missing. In order to estimate this number of teachers missing due to DOI exemptions, we multiplied the number of District of Innovation plans with class size exemptions18320 by the average number of waivers submitted by school districts that submitted any waivers19149, which was 19.5.
According to those calculations20Average number of teachers missing per district with class size DOI exemptions (19.5) x districts with class size DOI exemptions (320), roughly 6,240 teachers were missing due to District of Innovation exemptions.
When you add those 6,240 to the 2,903 surfaced in class waivers, the result is an estimated 9,143 educators needed for the state to fulfill its own class size mandates. This is likely a low estimation, considering that TEA has very little oversight of school district reporting on individual class sizes.
The 9,143 missing educators were then multiplied by average Texas educator pay21(bumped by $10,000 due to the previously outlined raises needed) to get the total payroll cost of adding these educators. To account for the TRS payroll tax, we added 11% to the total payroll cost, which brings us to a cost of $699,115,564 per year, or roughly $1,398,231,128 per biennium22To calculate that cost over the biennium, we doubled the amount..
Why we need it
“There wasn’t one single thing, one single event, that made me want to leave. It was death by a thousand papercuts. I ended up feeling by the end of it that I was running so fast that I was about to fall on my face every step. And I felt like no matter what I did and no matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t produce the kind of work that I wanted to.”Sara Fox, a teacher who recently left her job in Conroe ISD
Fully Staffing Counselors, Psychologists, & Social Workers to Recommended Provider Ratios
Investment Required: $6,204,415,767 per biennium
A 2022 Houston Chronicle investigation uncovered the dire staffing situation in school mental health roles:
- 98% of Texas students attended districts that did not meet the Texas Education Agency’s recommendation of one counselor per 250 students.
- Only 25 districts met the National Association of School Psychologists’ standard of one psychologist per 500 students.
- Four districts met the standard of 250 students per social worker recommended by the National Association of Social Workers.
In order to calculate how many additional counselors, psychologists, and social workers were needed, we subtracted the total number of each classification currently employed from the total number of employees from each classification needed to meet recommended ratios.
Currently, the state of Texas employs 13,998 counselors, 2,090 psychologists, and 1,045 social workers in its public schools.
The number of employees needed to reach recommended ratios was calculated based on current Texas public school enrollment235,427,370 students.
To hire the 7,711 additional counselors, 8,765 additional psychologists, and 20,664 additional social workers necessary, an investment of $6,204,415,767 per biennium is required.
Hiring a Full-Time Nurse at Every Campus Without One
Investment Required: $257,509,046 per biennium
The same 2022 Houston Chronicle investigation revealed that two-thirds of Texas school districts failed to meet the ratio of one nurse per 750 students that is recommended by the National Association of School Nurses.
There are 8,161 school campuses, yet there are only about 6,468 public school nurses employed in Texas. We estimate the state needs to hire at least an additional 1,693 full-time nurses to get a nurse at every campus currently without one.
That requires an investment of $128,754,523 per year, or $257,509,046 per biennium.
Increasing State Contributions to TRS-ActiveCare
Investment Required: $1.4 billion one-time appropriation to keep ActiveCare premiums at current levels for the biennium
ActiveCare contributions are sent to schools via the basic allotment. Currently $75 per month ($900 per year) is set aside by the state for a teachers’ ActiveCare balance.
The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) has calculated that it would need a $1.4 billion one-time appropriation to keep ActiveCare premiums constant for the biennium. Last year, TRS officials testified to the Legislature that TRS-ActiveCare premiums did not go up in this biennium only because of special appropriations of federal stimulus dollars, but the agency does predict a massive 22% increase in premiums for the 2024-2025 plan year without state action.
Why we need it
“The monthly amount I receive from TRS barely covers my household bills. I am literally living paycheck to paycheck, and I do not know what I would do if a catastrophic emergency occurred. After 34 years of devoted service to public education, and especially working in the field of special education, my back has taken a beating, and I live with constant chronic back pain. But because I live on my own — and with prices increasing daily, especially on food and gas — I have recently had to go back to work.”Mary De La Garza, a retired paraprofessional educator
Cost-of-Living Adjustment of 6-10% for TRS Retirees
Investment Required: $11.48 billion lump-sum payment for a 10% uncapped COLA or $6.89 billion lump-sum payment for a 6% uncapped COLA
Texas educators who have retired since 2004 have never received a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their TRS annuities. That means many retirees still receive the same monthly annuity that they did a decade ago, with no adjustment for inflation.
TRS is one of only two systems across the country in which retirees are not provided with an automatic COLA and negatively affected by federal Social Security provisions, like the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset.
Retirees in other states can at least rely on yearly Social Security COLAs, even if they don’t have a COLA for their pensions. Texas and Louisiana are the only states with the dishonor of having reduced Social Security benefits while also failing to provide an automatic COLA.
TRS actuaries have explained that a major factor in TRS’ inability to provide regular COLAs is that the state of Texas funds TRS at a lower proportional level than any other state. A total of about 20% of employee payroll is contributed to TRS each month by the state of Texas, school districts, and employees themselves. Every other state funds their teacher pensions at a higher proportional level than Texas.
TRS has calculated different scenarios. If the COLA were paid with a lump sum (the least expensive and actuarial best practice), each percentage COLA would add $1.148 billion per percentage point. So a 10% uncapped COLA would require an $11.48 billion single lump-sum payment.
Restoring ‘Grow-Your-Own’ Teacher Certification Funding
Investment Required: $39,948,319.22 per biennium
This “Grow-Your-Own-Teacher” or Educational Aide Tuition Exemption program allows teaching aides to attend or return to college tuition-free in exchange for a commitment to teach in a critical shortage area. The program increases teacher diversity and also encourages more Texans to earn post-secondary credentials. Research shows this program would specifically aid in hiring a diverse group of teachers for students who need special education services and emergent bilingual students.
Past candidates have exceptionally high retention rates because they are already accustomed to and love working in schools with children.
The 2010-2011 state budget allocated $14,369,899 for the “Educational Aide Program” (28,739,798 per biennium). By the 2022-2023 budget, this number shrank to $481,616 per year (less than $1 million per biennium).
If we had maintained funding, updated for inflation since 2009 when the appropriation was passed, the price tag would be $39,948,319.22 per biennium.
Why we need it
“My actual salary is less than $22,000 a year, and this affects me tremendously. Luckily, I live with my parents, both by choice and by necessity, because making less than $22,000 a year is barely enough to make rent, and that’s it. No groceries. No leisure. So I have enough to help my parents out and pay for tuition, and that’s about it. I’m going to be straightforward about it, the pay is unliveable.”George Cuba, a paraprofessional in Irving ISD, who is pursuing his education degree and certification
Total Investments Needed for this Biennium: $33,398,157,376.22
How we pay for the Respect Agenda
Adjustments to the Basic Allotment
New Funding Generated: $21,020,188,988 per biennium
If the Legislature made just the following two adjustments to the basic allotment, education funding would increase by $21,020,188,988 for the budget biennium.
None of the investments we need to make in public education are possible without making these adjustments.
Raise the Basic Allotment to Inflation-Adjusted Levels
When the basic allotment is increased, 30% of a school district’s budgetary increase must go to compensation. Of that amount, 75% must go to teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses — with priority given to teachers with five or more years of experience.
The basic allotment, an amount of funding per student, is the primary building block of the school finance formulas and is set arbitrarily by the Legislature. No identifiable costs are used to determine the basic allotment, nor is it adjusted annually for inflation.
The Legislature has left the basic allotment stagnant at $6,160 per student for the last four years. By not regularly increasing the basic allotment, the Legislature has denied Texas public schools the ability to improve compensation for teachers being affected by record levels of inflation.
If the basic allotment had been adjusted for inflation annually since it was last set in 2019, it would be $7,325 for this school year. For the 2024-25 budget, the basic allotment would need to be $7,506 for 2024 and $7,671 for 2025.
At the end of the biennium the basic allotment would be $1,511 per student higher than it is today.
Shift from Attendance-Based to Enrollment-Based Funding
The Texas school finance system left nearly 300,000 students uncounted in the 2021-22 school year. In the first year of the pandemic, 8% of kids, or nearly 433,000 students, were uncounted — even after the Texas Education Agency made adjustments due to COVID-19 attendance loss. For perspective, that’s nearly the entire school population of Arkansas.
Undercounts happen because Texas continues to use an archaic method to fund our schools. Instead of using enrollment — the number of actual students served — our state determines funding based on attendance. Currently, only six states use attendance-based funding.
Very little research shows that tying funding to attendance improves attendance. However, studies do show that attendance is higher when schools create a positive experience and have good relationships with caring adults. Schools can strengthen attendance by promoting parent engagement and collaborating with community-based organizations that focus on the social, emotional, and financial well-being of students and their families.
They can only do this effectively with appropriate state funding.
In order to calculate how much basic allotment funding would be allocated to education if Texas adopted these adjustments to the basic allotment, TEA’s enrollment projections for the next two school years were multiplied by the inflation-adjusted basic allotment.
In order to calculate how much basic allotment funding would be allocated to education if Texas did not adopt these adjustments to the basic allotment, TEA’s attendance projections for the next two school years were multiplied by the current $6,160 basic allotment.
To compare these values, the non-adjusted basic allotment allocation was subtracted from the adjusted basic allotment allocation.
Properly Appraise Commercial & Industrial Property
New Funding Generated: $9,704,170,526 per biennium
The state of Texas systemically undervalues commercial and industrial property for the purposes of property tax collection. A recent AFT research study — based on public data, as well as analysis of data from CoStar, a national real estate data firm — revealed that commercial and industrial property were undervalued by $505,267,652,039 in 2019.
That total estimated valuation lost24Estimated lost valuation due to under-appraisal (2019): $505,267,652,039 was multiplied by the state’s median Maintenance and Operations tax rate25Median M&O tax rate 2021-2022: $.9603 per $100 to yield how much money in school property tax collection was lost due the undervaluation.
If that property were properly appraised, education funding would increase by $4,852,085,263 per year, or roughly $9,704,170,526 for the biennium26To calculate that cost over the biennium, the amount was doubled..
Remove Charter School Funding Advantage
New Funding Generated: $715,483,058 per biennium
The current structure of the small-to-midsize allotment drives disparities and creates perverse incentives that fuel unlimited charter expansion.
Public school districts with an average daily attendance (ADA) of fewer than 5,000 students receive a small-to-midsize allotment under the school finance formula. All charters receive the small-to-midsize allotment, regardless of their size.
While public school districts are inherently limited in the total amount of small-to-midsize allotment they can receive due to the limits on ADA in the funding formula, charter schools are allowed to receive an unlimited amount of funding through the small-to-midsize allotment, regardless of their size.
Statewide, charter schools received $357,741,529 in small-to-midsize allotment in 2021-2022 alone. If the state did not provide charter schools with undue access to the small-to-midsize allotment, the state could save roughly $715,483,058 for the biennium.
Total New Funding Generated for this Biennium: $31,439,842,572
The Cost of Privatization
New Costs to Avoid
Private School Vouchers
According to the Texas Private School Association, there are currently 250,000 private school students in Texas. Bills like Senate Bill 176 would provide students with a voucher that is equivalent to the state’s average per-student Maintenance and Operations expenditures, currently $10,758.
If each of the 250,000 students currently attending Texas private schools received a $10,758 voucher, it would cost the state $2,689,500,000 per year27Total per student M&O expenditures x Total number of private school students in Texas. To calculate that cost over the biennium, the amount would double — roughly $5,379,000,000 per biennium28$2,689,500,000 x 2.
Rapid Charter School Expansion
The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) projects that state funding for charter schools will increase by $500 million next year. If we were to place a moratorium on charter school expansion, the state would save more than $1 billion over the next biennium.
Removing Charter Facilities Funding Limits
Currently, charter facilities funding is limited to $60 million per school year. Removing this limit from the charter facilities funding formula would have increased that amount more than five times — to $308,445,768 — if applied in the 2021-2022 school year.
This would cost the state an additional $240 million per year, or roughly $480 million per biennium.
Total New Costs to Avoid in this Biennium: $6,859,000,000
As Texas AFT President Zeph Capo has said, “The only ‘school choice’ the Legislature has this session is whether it’s going to fund the public schools that employ more than 650,000 Texans and educate 5.5 million Texas children, or whether it’s going to underwrite the pocketbooks of wealthy Texas families already sending their children to private schools.”
Our research supports this conclusion. There is no way to fund public education in Texas robustly, or even adequately, while also implementing school vouchers and other privatization attempts.
Our public education system can have a bright future if the state of Texas is willing to invest in it. The choice is the Legislature’s.