Education

Report: Nearly every Harris County school district is underfunded

Data determined that school districts with bigger budget shortfalls were more likely to have larger Black and Hispanic student demographics.

Children walk down a hallway at Live Oak Elementary School in August.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
Children walk down a hallway at Live Oak Elementary School in August.

Nearly every school district in Harris County is underfunded, a recent Kinder Institute analysis determined.

Data from the School Finance Indicators Database and the Kinder Institute determined school districts with bigger budget shortfalls were more likely to have larger Black and Hispanic student demographics. Those districts were also more likely to underperform on state academic achievement ratings, according to the institute.

The data reflects an ongoing dispute between public educators who have frequently argued that Texas lawmakers aren’t doing enough to increase public education funding, a fight that has left some local school districts cutting costs and grasping for pennies. It also points out an obvious budget disparity reflecting lower spending in higher minority districts.

Alief Independent School District, a district in western Harris County with a 4% white student body, had the largest spending gap. In 2022, the district spent $11,464 per student, but data from the institute determined that $24,000 would be an adequate per-student spending figure. Its average student achievement rating was just 73, according to the data.

Almost all school districts in Harris County are underfunded, Rice University professor Ruth Turley said, and those with higher percentages of Black and Hispanic students achieve average scores.

Tomball Independent School District, a district north of Houston, is operating on the lowest budget gap of other districts, just over $800. Tomball’s school district, with a 53% white student body, scored a 94 average on student achievement ratings.

Turley said lawmakers should increase per-pupil funding, especially in high minority school districts whose spending is more than 40% below average.

The study comes weeks after leaders of the Spring Branch Independent School District announced that it plans to close two schools and a charter school program, blaming Texas lawmakers who last year failed to pass essential public school funding packages.

The move is estimated to displace about 2,100 economically disadvantaged students this year, many of whom are Hispanic.

Other Harris County school districts have found ways to alternatively cut costs. Clear Creek Independent School District last year called a voter approval tax rate election, asking taxpayers to make up the costs needed to maintain normal budget operations.