Comptroller Glen Hegar’s recent announcement of the unprecedented $27 billion budget surplus has generated a lot of excitement around the Texas Capitol. Almost immediately, heads of state began tossing around ideas on how best to use the funds. Leading experts on public education policy and funding agree that several funding options could dramatically improve the lives of Texans for years to come — and we believe young Texans should be a priority. We need to invest in the 5.4 million students who are the future of our state, and as public school finance experts, we have some recommendations.
First, in light of record inflation, we are proposing an increase in the dollar amount per student, also known around Capitol Hill as the basic allowance. This would benefit all students in all public schools in Texas. Prior to the changes instituted by HB 3 in 2019, this base allocation remained unchanged for four years.
Although HB 3 increased the base allowance by $1,020, inflation has since reduced the value of this increase, so we recommend that the state base the allowance on the Texas Consumer Price Index published by the controller. This measure tracks the average change in the price of consumer goods; it is a reflection of inflation and the general health of the economy. By permanently tying attribution to this metric, we can fund the true cost of education in current and future economic climates and provide Texas schools with additional resources to better serve their students, especially those who come from households educationally disadvantaged.
Another challenge public schools in Texas face is the growing gap between what they spend to provide special education services and the amount of funding the state’s school funding system provides for those services. . According to the Texas Education Agency, in 2021 that funding shortfall was more than $2.3 billion, and it impacts everything from student assessments to transportation costs. One way to help close this gap is to update the formulas so that funding is based on the services provided rather than the student’s educational background. After all, each student is unique and requires an individualized education plan to reach their maximum potential. It is time for the state to increase investment in special education to reflect the financial realities schools face today and to ensure access to equal opportunity education for all students.
Finally, one of the main topics of discussion during this next legislature will – rightly – be safety at school. Because school safety at all school facilities is a top priority for the state, lawmakers should seriously consider significantly increasing the school safety allocation to provide schools with sufficient funding to make the necessary improvements to measures. safety and expanding mental health services. Currently, the annual security allowance is $9.72 for each student attending the school. As a result, small districts sometimes have to make difficult choices, for example, between a school resource officer or a school counselor.
In addition to formula increases, which wouldn’t take effect until the 2022-23 school year, lawmakers could also consider creating an additional appropriation that reallocates additional dollars to the core school curriculum. These could be invested in a grant program that reimburses schools for safety improvements made during the current school year. Because this strategy is based on reallocation, it would cost the state no additional dollars beyond what was already budgeted and would reduce delays in investments needed to address security issues throughout the year.
While several priorities merit state investment, and most will likely absorb some of the historic budget surplus, we encourage lawmakers to put students at the top of the list. After all, those who sit in Texas classrooms today will become the leaders of tomorrow.
Lopez is chief financial officer at MoakCasey and former associate commissioner and director of school finance for the Texas Education Agency.