The primary source of state funding for Texas school districts is the Foundation School Program, which ensures that all school districts, regardless of property wealth, receive “substantially equal access to similar revenue per student at similar tax effort.” The state determines how to fund each individual school district based on student’s needs, but those state funds are only one piece of the overall funding.
“Weight average daily attendance” is the formula the state uses to determine how much it costs school districts to educate the average student, which is about $10,000 per student. The problem is Texas’ current formula for the determining a district’s costs hasn’t been updated. Those ‘weights’ were established in 1984, and since then standards have gone up, both for the individual students and for school districts.
The state also uses that formula to determine the cost to educate students who may come with challenges. Because student characteristics differ, it might require additional resources to reach those students.
Currently the state assumes part of the cost to educate a student, and the federal government chips in a small percentage. The rest is made up from local property taxes, and that amount is steadily rising.
In 2014–2015, Texas spent $60.9 billion on Pre-K–12 education, or $11,704 per student. Local property taxes accounted for nearly half of all education revenue and compose a Maintenance & Operations tax for things like salaries and supplies and an Interest & Sinking Fund tax for debt service on facilities and capital.
Rather than giving principals actual dollars that can be spent flexibly based on school priorities, budgeting provides staffing positions — such as teachers, librarians and counselors — according to rigid staffing schedules. As a result, resources that are intended for specific students are often used for other purposes, and school leaders have less say over how funds are spent.
Suggestions for improvement include moving away from local revenues to fund public education, adopting student-based budgeting, and expanding access to high-quality education options.