Education News

Why Houston Business Leaders Say It’s Time To Fix Texas School Finance

In a new white paper, the Greater Houston Partnership describes how it’s getting harder for employers to find and hire qualified people for jobs that require training beyond a high school diploma.

Students crowd the hallway after the last bell rings at Liberty High School in Frisco in February 2017.

One of Houston’s most powerful business groups has come out in favor of school finance reform in Texas, adding to the list of advocates, leaders and elected officials who also want to see change. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has already declared school finance an emergency issue for state lawmakers this legislative session. And leaders in the Texas House and Senate have proposed more money for public schools — though each chamber has its own number.

In a new white paper, the Greater Houston Partnership describes how it’s getting harder for employers to find and hire qualified people for jobs that require training beyond a high school diploma — jobs that are expected to grow in the 21st century economy. 

That’s why their biggest concern with Texas school finance involves making sure the state has a strong future workforce.

Below are other reasons why Houston’s business leaders want Texas school finance to be a major priority. At least for now, the group stopped short of endorsing any specific plan to fix school finance — though they’ve outlined certain priorities.

“Texas public school funding is not meeting the needs of a 21st century workforce.” The report cites a 2018 survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas that found a shrinking labor market is the number one concern among business executives. It found 66 percent of them had difficulty finding and hiring qualified workers.

“The outdated formula funding system doesn’t account for the diversity of Texas’ student population or the transformation in viable industry jobs and career pathways for students.” Texas has improved its high school graduation rate to 90 percent. But very few of those students graduate ready for college or careers. In 2018, about 37 percent of Texas’ graduating seniors met the SAT readiness benchmark in English and 24 percent met the math criteria. The percent of Texas students who met the college readiness benchmark for the ACT was lower: about 12 percent in both English and math.

“Local burden for funding public schools is inordinate.” Like the final report from the Texas Commission on School Finance, the partnership describes how the burden of funding public schools has shifted from the state to local school districts. In 2017-18, local districts paid for about 62 percent of funding; the state contributed 38 percent. The state used to pay for just over half of the funding.

“Local tax burden is unsustainable under the current school finance system.” The report explains how the shift in the burden of public school funding to school districts has forced many of them to increase their tax rates. Many of them have held special elections to move their rates past the state’s limit, in order to compensate for less state revenue. Last November, voters in several North Texas school districts approved school tax increases for things like early education, employee raises and smaller class sizes.

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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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