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Who is paying for public education

The state is paying less, while local districts are paying more.

The state of Texas will spend a projected $40.5 billion on public education during the current 2016-17 budget period, and when state officials tell you they’re spending more on education, they’re telling the truth.

Not all of the truth, but some of it. Their spending increases haven’t kept up with the burgeoning number of students. In the 2017 fiscal year, the state is planning to spend $19.6 billion, according to the Legislative Budget Board, up 7.4 percent from the amount they spent 10 years earlier.

The average daily attendance in 2017, one way to measure the number of students in public schools, will reach 5.04 million, an increase of 16.8 percent over the 4.3 million in Texas classrooms 10 years earlier.

This isn’t a brainteaser: The population has been rising faster than state spending. Texas is spending more, but not keeping pace.

Local and federal spending increases have covered the difference. Public school districts are on track to spend $26.2 billion in 2017, up 44.2 percent from 2008. Federal spending rose 22.2 percent to $5.1 billion.

On a per-student basis, local spending rose $990.21 over those 10 years, state spending fell $339 and federal spending rose $45.06.

The state is spending more than it was overall, but it’s spending less per pupil.

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Try this exercise. Don’t fool with the overall cost of public education in each of those 10 years — leave that number alone — but keep the state’s overall share of 44.9 percent in place the whole time. State government would have spent $18.6 billion more than it did on public education over the past 10 years. Local school districts paid 44.8 percent of the total in 2008 and are on track to carry 51.5 percent in 2017. Had the burdens remained constant, local school districts would have spent $11.6 billion less over that decade.

For the second session in a row, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has pre-filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the state to keep its share of public school spending at 50 percent or higher.

Pinch yourself — that would cut $10.3 billion from what the school districts and their property taxpayers are spending in the current budget, but it would cost the state government — fueled by sales and other taxes — the same amount. That’s back-of-the-envelope math, but you get the idea.

If the state agreed, as Howard has proposed, to cover even more of the cost of public education local schools could spend less. They’d be able to lower property taxes by a sizeable, politically significant amount. Legislators would be on the hook for education support they have been foisting off on local school boards.

Wouldn’t that be something? I’m sure you can guess what its odds of passage are, but it’s still worth the effort. This highlights perhaps the main reason why so many people called for the defeat of the recapture referendum last month. The money HISD will have to send to the state won’t go towards education elsewhere, which at least would be a good moral reason for supporting it. It’s an accounting maneuver that gives the state credit for spending on education when it really isn’t doing anything more. And remember, the Supreme Court said this was all fine. Meanwhile, Dan Patrick wants to divert money away from public education to the private school vouchers that he doesn’t want you to call vouchers because that’s an unpopular name. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing will change until we have different people in charge of these things. In the meantime, spare a bit of pity for your school board trustee, and tell your Rep and your Senator to support Rep. Howard’s bill.

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