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Fair or Falling Short

Learn How Texas Funds Public Schools In 7 Easy Steps

Scroll down to become an expert yourself.


Editor’s Note: Texas Public Radio’s Camille Phillips updated this story for 2023. It originally ran in April of 2015.

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. Currently, it's $6,160 per student. They determine the budget based on how the state decides to spend on education overall – not 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.

For instance, students who are learning English get an extra 10 percent. If they're in a dual language program they get an extra 15 percent.

Students from low-income families get an extra 22.5 to 27.5 percent, depending on the concentration of poverty in their neighborhood.

Special education students get more funding too.

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

school backpacks with coins fyling inside

Before HB3 became law in 2019, many of these add-on weights had not been updated in the state formula since 1984, back when Ronald Reagan was president.

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 it also takes money from Gotham and Boardwalk Heights and gives it property-poor districts. That's because Gotham and Boardwalk Heights have more property wealth than the state says they're entitled to.

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

Arguably, the Gotham School District makes out the worst. Even though it has a lot of property to tax, it has so many students that the money doesn't go as far.

Technically, it gets slightly more money per student than Boardwalk Heights. But with so many students with different needs the district still struggles.



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

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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.