Misconceptions: Schools Don’t Spend Wisely

    Texas Public School Leaders Are Making Strategic and Sound Fiscal Decisions

    This is the second in our story series, “Misconception Mondays,” where we dispel a common misconception about public schools in Texas each Monday of the month. The first step to becoming an advocate for all Texas students is to know the truth about our schools.

    Texas public schools educate more than 5 million students, with individual school district enrollments ranging from 13 students in Divide ISD to 211,552 students in Houston ISD.

    Including HISD’s 25,000+ employees, the district runs a “business” affecting nearly a quarter of a million individuals directly, and hundreds of thousands more indirectly, as parents, taxpayers and employers – current and future – are impacted by the district’s academic quality and appropriate spending.

    Whether managing a district with 13 or 13,000 students (the average Texas district enrolls less than 1,000), superintendents and school boards are charged with an amazing responsibility. Not only must they adhere to all Texas laws pertaining to public education (the Texas Education Code is 1,579 pages!), but they must also budget for and manage programs and extracurricular activities important to their local communities. While Divide ISD’s transportation needs may rise to the top of the list (the district covers 300+ square miles), Houston ISD invests in programs unique to urban school districts, like dropout recovery, programs for students with incarcerated parents, and night school for working students.

    Despite the vast differences among the 1,036 Texas school districts and charter schools, all 5+ million students are held to the same accountability standards and assessment requirements, leaving very little room for discretionary spending by district officials.

    The information below details how Texas school districts spend their money on average. As is the case with most non-profit organizations, the vast majority of school district spending goes toward teachers and personnel – the heart and soul of our schools.

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    Classroom Instruction

    317,000 Teachers
    58,800 Aides
    4,600 Librarians
    Instructional Materials
    Staff Development

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    District Operations

    Facilities Maintenance & Operations
    Food Service
    Data Processing
    118,000 Operations Staff

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    Instructional Support

    7,200 Campus Principals
    9,000 Assistant Principals
    10,600 School Counselors
    5,800 School Nurses

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    Central Administration

    12,500 Staff Members
    Tax Appraisal & Collection
    Legal Services
    Audit & Accounting Services

    After accounting for staff and non-negotiables like food service and transportation, only a small percentage of funding remains for a superintendent or school board to allocate for programs and services prioritized by the district and local community. For this reason, many parents and community members have formed Local Education Foundations (LEF) to provide extra financial support to school districts. Read our recent blog about LEFs to learn more and get involved.

    There is no doubt that school districts, like all businesses with constant stakeholder pressure, work hard to maximize efficiencies and cut waste. Considering their “product” is the future success of 5+ million Texas students, the stakes are high and expectations are even higher. We’ve raised academic standards to the highest level in Texas history, yet our per-student funding level is less than what was budgeted for Texas students 10+ years ago (adjusted for inflation).

    Given many of the top private schools in Texas charge more than $25,000 in annual tuition, it is truly impressive what our Texas schools and students achieve for a fraction of that – state and local funding amounts to about $9,000 per pupil, which ranks 46th in the nation. (To be wowed by some recent public school achievements, see last week’s blog about innovation in our public schools.)

    There is always room to improve, but from the one-room schoolhouse in Divide ISD to HISD’s 276 campuses, Texas school leaders are making strategic and sound fiscal decisions, and their students are making us proud.

    Data for the above chart is attributed to “Tracking the Education Dollar in Texas Public Schools”, an annual publication prepared by Moak Casey & Associates and sponsored by TASA and TASB.

    Curious what school is like at Divide ISD? Check out this video. Want to see Houston ISD’s own budget pie chart? Click here.