School Outcomes and School Costs, a report that describes what Texans are getting for their taxes spent on public schools, was presented to the Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance today, March 4, 2004.
Dr. Lori Taylor of Texas A&M University, told the committee members that school costs across Texas vary widely, so different districts may need different levels of funding and that due to its size, Texas has costs that vary more widely than any other state. Senator Leticia Van de Putte asked if the level of poverty of the students had any affect on what training level the teachers might need. Dr. Taylor said that could be the case, especially if students spoke English as a second language, but that due to many factors this did not mean that students in low-income areas necessarily needed the most experienced, most expensive, teachers. Representative Luna pointed out that just because a student may come from a lower-income background , it does not necessarily follow that his or her parents may be less concerned about their education.
Dr. Taylor also described reasons for higher teacher salaries in urban areas, noting that over the past decade the cost of living had risen much more in Texas cities than it had in rural areas. Federal funding also has an impact on school budgets, which must be considered but is hard to put into data formulas.
Senator Florence Shapiro was concerned that she wasn't seeing any information in the study about dropout rates, and that while everything said today was of great value, this information would have to be provided to the Legislature.
Senator Van de Putte was also concerned about getting additional funding for those districts that were growing especially quickly. Dr. Taylor said the study didn't directly address the issue, but that they found no funding issues directly associated with those districts. Senator Steve Ogden wanted to know why some districts were spending more than the study said was necessary to meet state standards. She replied that in many cases, those schools were achieving more and were not necessarily inefficient. There were unexplained costs of about seven percent, she continued, but that these as well were not necessarily places where state funding could be cut. Senator Ogden said there may be a significant number of districts that are spending too much per pupil without justification. He was joined by Senator Shapiro in asking for a list of districts that had high unexplained costs.
The Joint Select Committee on Public School Finance is Co-chaired by Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Kent Grusendorf. Members from the Legislature include Senators Eddie Lucio, Steve Ogden, Todd Staples and Leticia Van de Putte as well as Representatives Talmadge Heflin, Fred Hill, Vilma Luna, Ken Marchant and Ron Wilson. Public Members include Carolyn Bacon, Caroline Hoxby, Jack Ladd and Don McAdams. The Committee's next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 10th.