Judge John Dietz is expected to decide in May whether Texas’ funding of public schools is inadequate and, therefore, unconstitutional. In a preliminary ruling last year, the state district judge ruled against the state but wanted to hear arguments about whether increased two-year funding in 2013 changed that.
New figures released recently by the National Education Association will do nothing to dissuade the view that Texas still falls woefully short.
Texas no longer ranks 49th nationally in per-pupil funding among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It is 46th, but its funding is still $464 less than it was in the 2010-11 school year. Moreover, what it spends on average per student — $8,998 — is well below the national average of $11,674.
Texas spent more only than Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Utah. Even our usual cellar mate on other indicators, Mississippi, spends more, $9,048 per pupil.
Texas upped teacher salaries, improving its ranking from 38th to 35th. But its $49,270 average — up $450 — is still well below the national average of $56,689.
The judge considering Texas funding will also have to consider how fast the second-most populous state is growing. A lot and it is also No. 2 in the nation in the percentage of its population of school age — 27.1 percent.
Texas’ official response to the funding dilemma is to point to higher graduation rates and testing gains, particularly among minority students.
But other measures point to only middling performance among the states in graduation. And attrition — a comparison of ninth-graders and how they fared four years later — shows considerable room for improvement.
Texas had an attrition rate of 25 percent statewide, according to the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association. Black and Latino students were two times more likely to leave school without graduating than white students.
The state response has been a gauntlet of testing — de-emphasized in the last legislative session — and denial that funding plays as big a role as critics contend.
Judge Dietz will decide.
But it never should have come to this — school districts at ground zero having to resort to a lawsuit, again, to tell the state what’s so very obvious.
Yes, spending has to be smart. But there is nothing smart about insisting that a half-full — if that — glass is brimming over.
— San Antonio Express-News