As lawmakers consider education savings accounts, how does school funding in Texas work right now?

School funding in Texas is complicated. We break it down.

By Sarah AschOctober 9, 2023 7:22 am, , , , ,

The Texas Legislature failed to pass an education savings account plan during the regular session, despite most Republican state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, naming the issue a priority. Education savings accounts, sometimes called school vouchers, would allow families to spend state dollars to send their children to private school.

Now, Abbott has called a third special session that begins today. Though he hasn’t stated the purpose of the session yet, it is widely expected he will ask legislators to take up this issue again.

But how does school funding in Texas currently work?

Camille Phillips, who covers education for Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, uses an analogy about buckets to explain the basics.

“The state decides how big a school district’s bucket is, and so every school district gets a bucket and then local funding is poured into that bucket. And if you have a lot of property tax wealth, then your bucket might overflow,” she Says. “And so the state takes that extra property tax wealth and distributes it to other school districts. But if you don’t have as much property wealth, you put in all your local property taxes and then the state fills in the rest with their state dollars.”

However, Phillips said it is a little more complicated than that — there is a formula the state uses to decide how much funding each district gets.

“There’s something called a basic allotment, which is where the state says, ‘this is the minimum amount that every school district should get per student.’ And then there’s a formula that they use based on the size of the school district, the demographics of the students, for how much additional money (the district) should get. Like, if you have so many students in special education, you get an additional amount and so on and so forth.”

Phillips said that while it is not entirely clear exactly how educations savings accounts would affect public school funding, the money has to come from somewhere.

“The largest expense in our state budget is public education. And so when you’re thinking about that, you have to spread dollars among more entities, right? So that just means that there will be less money available for public education if we do dedicate money to private school vouchers or education savings accounts,” she said. “The governor has said that that money won’t be used. There’s you know, there’s a separate money that they will use for education savings accounts. But, okay, if you just think about it going forward, when you’ve got a year with a budget crunch and you have only so many dollars to go around, that might mean that the state doesn’t add money to public education.”

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