Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content

Educating children must be priority

Profile image for Dallas Morning News Editorial
Dallas Morning News Editorial

We at The Dallas Morning News knew Texas' funding of its schools was lacking, but a new study suggests it's even worse than we thought.

Texas is spending fewer dollars per student -- 16 percent less -- than it did in 2008, according to the Washington-based think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That's the sixth-biggest decline in state spending in the country.

Then this frustrating reminder: Lawmakers barely tinkered around the edges of school funding this session, and they've consistently failed to overhaul the state's convoluted funding system. They left school districts to fend for themselves for innovative programs aimed at closing achievement gaps.

Improving outcomes in cities like Dallas -- which is home to one of the highest child poverty rates in the country -- requires serious investment. Austin has to do more to help.

Among the study's devastating details is this gem: From 2008 to 2015, the last education spending data available from the Census Bureau, Texas per-student spending (adjusted for inflation) declined more than only Arizona, Florida, Alabama, Idaho and Georgia.

Texas slashed $5.4 billion in funding in 2011. Since then, much of that funding has been restored, but it hasn't been enough to keep pace with the state's rapidly growing student population during that same time period.

How do we expect our children to compete when Austin continues to put them so far behind?

The burden is increasingly being shifted to local taxpayers and districts already hamstrung by tight budgets to take up the slack. That's no long-term solution. There's only so much local money to go around.

Take pre-kindergarten, for example. When lawmakers chose not to renew $118 million in grants from the previous session, Dallas ISD had to scale back some of its expansion plans. It found money to continue this important program by cutting money elsewhere. Superintendent Michael Hinojosa had already cut $60 million last school year -- including many librarians.

What's more, when trustees refused to put a budget increase on the ballot for the second year in a row, the district had to scrap its plan for more specialty schools and put on hold more "public school choice" offerings throughout the district.

It's true that money isn't the only way to measure quality. Officials are right to insist that districts scrub their budgets and prioritize how they spend their money.

But starving a system isn't the answer either. Inadequate funding has dire consequences.

Taxpayers need to insist that our leaders put educating our children at the top of the priority list and pony up enough public dollars to make it work. Our students -- and our collective futures -- are the biggest losers if we don't.