Fair or Falling Short

Learn How Texas Funds Public Schools In 7 Easy Steps

Scroll down to become an expert yourself.

Learn how Texas funds public schools in 7 easy steps   The school system in Texas is so complicated   But it boils down ro 7 key steps. Follow this illustration to become and expert yourself  

STEP 1: Pick a school district.

First there's Gotham

It’s urban with hundreds of thousands of students. Most of them low-income and many are learning English.

  Right next door there's Broadwalk Heights School District

It has just a few thousand students. None of them are low-income or learning English.

  Finally there's Mr Burns Estates School District

It has a nuclear power plant, one mansion and servant quarters. It has just 100 students. All of them are low-income.

 

STEP 2: Set a basic budget for each student in all districts.

three stacks of apples. four in one column, three in the middle, and one in the last

State lawmakers set the basic budget. Let’s say $5,000 per student. They determine the budget based on how much they decide to spend on education overall – not on how much academic standards cost.

 

STEP 3: Add extra money for certain students and certain districts.

money bags sitting in school desks

On top of the basic budget, Texas gives extra money for students who need more support, like English-language learners and low-income students.

The state gives extra add-on money for them. It’s called a “weight.” Think of it like a percentage.

Students who are learning English get an extra 10 percent.

Gifted and talented students get an extra 12 percent.

Students from low-income families get an extra 20 percent.

Some districts – like small ones – get a big bump, too.

  school backpacks with coins fyling inside

Many of these add-on weights have not been updated in the state formula since 1984, back when Ronald Reagan was president.

Experts say they should be at least doubled or more.

comic of Ronald Reagan  

STEP 4: Raise money for the school budget from local property taxes.

property tax illustration

The more valuable the property, the easier it is to raise money for school.

 

The Gotham School District has lots of homes and businesses and even some cattle land. Its property is worth tens of billions of dollars. In fact, it has the most property wealth. But it also has the most students.

Several billion dollars

The Mr. Burns Estates School District is second in property wealth. Its nuclear power plant is worth several billion dollars. But it has very few students, so it raises a huge amount of money per student.

Then Boardwalk Heights is worth a couple billion dollars. It’s full of multimillion dollar mansions. Since it doesn’t have too many kids, it can raise more than enough money per student.

 

STEP 5: Set a tax rate.

tax rates

The school board in each district votes on a tax rate.

The more property value in the district, the lower the tax rate can be and still manage to raise the basic budget for each student.

 

STEP 6: Add it up.

Take the basic budget per student, add the extra money for certain groups and then subtract that from the property taxes.

basic budget plus extra money minus property taxes

STEP 7: Don’t forget the state financial aid.

Don't forget the state financial aid  

The state tries to fill in what the local property taxes don’t provide to reach that basic budget per student.

dropping coing inside districts

It redistributes money from those districts that raise far more money than the budget per student — like Mr. Burns Estates.

But the state doesn’t add enough to Gotham to catch them up to Mr. Burns Estates or Boardwalk Heights, even after it takes some money away from those two richer districts.

  kid in sunglasses and wearing a backback

The Mr. Burns Estates School District makes out the best because it has the most wealth and the fewest students.

storm cloud over school

The Gotham School District makes out the worst because even though it has a lot of property to tax, it has so many students with different needs that it still struggles.

 

ATTRIBUTION

Art by Michelle Porucznik Based on exercises created by Scott Hochberg, lecturer at Rice University Developed by Laura Isensee

click here for more in this series

 

Support for this series was provided by “The Equity Reporting Project: Restoring the Promise of Education,” which was developed by Renaissance Journalism with funding from the Ford Foundation.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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