Texas School Funding Battle Heats Up

The fight over education funding in Texas is getting heated, with more school districts joining a lawsuit against the state, demanding an overhaul to the system. But one local state lawmaker says Texas has already been pretty generous.

More than 300 Texas school districts have joined the lawsuit so far, including the Houston School District, and that number is growing by the week. The state cut funding by about $2 billion this past legislative session, and now schools say
they can't adequately educate students with the money they have left. HD Chambers is the superintendent of Alief schools,
what's considered a "property-poor" district.

"Every child I have in the school district — based on the funding system that's in place right now — is worth about $4900. Neighboring districts may get anywhere from $5000 per student to as much as $6200 per student. When 80-percent of my students in Alief are economically disadvantaged and 40-percent come to be limited English proficient, that $600 or $700 delta between some school districts and what I'm receiving is critical."   

Chambers  says not only is there not enough money, he can't make sense of the funding formula that determines how many dollars his district gets.

"We have a system right now in the state of Texas where there are multiple funding formulas that are in place, multiple ways
to get to that dollar amount that you get per child that are in place that quite frankly, I can't explain. Our legislators can't
explain it. By the mere fact that you can't explain it makes it inefficient." 

Dr. John Kelly is the Superintendent of the Pearland School District, which was recently given top honors for how efficiently
it spends its money. He says the state's funding formula simply isn't fair.

"I equate it to this: it's as though our teachers have just finished climbing Mt. Everest and now they're being asked by the state, we're going to put 50 more pounds in your backpack; we're going to reduce the amount of oxygen that you get; we're going to tell all those Sherpa guides, you're fired; you're on your own and you need to make it up the mountain in half the time. That's not fair and we need the state to either put up or shut up. If they're going to raise the standards, then they need to give us adequate funding."  

The Houston School District has about $80 million less in state funding this year and expects to be $120 million short next school year. State Representative Rob Eissler of The Woodlands is the Chair of the House Public Education Committee. He says it's all about how efficiently districts use the money they have. He says funding has actually been quite generous. 

"This last session, we didn't have as much money to put into the system. Although in the last five years, we've gone beyond inflation and enrollment growth to even with the reduction of $2 billion, we're still $3.2 billion above inflation and enrollment growth in what we've spent."

More lawsuits are expected to be filed over the next month. Districts have sued the state in the past, and in some cases, have prevailed in their efforts to change the way the state doles out education dollars.