Investing in Results
In the spring of 2016, the Texas Supreme Court called attention to the state’s education system by ruling that its funding scheme was barely constitutional. They urged lawmakers to make significant changes during the 85th session to ensure that the system could be fixed, instead of just a solution that is equivalent to layering band-aids on top of each other. After this event, lawmakers finally responded to the rising pressure from interest groups to fix the education system in Texas. Both chambers in the Texas Legislature allocated the most amount of money in each of their budgets to education relative to other sectors of Texas’ economy.
In Texas’ current system, public elementary and secondary education is funded by a combination of state and local revenue. The claim in the lawsuit was that Texas does not adequately or efficiently fund its public schools through its target revenue scheme to meet increasingly rigorous accountability standards. Some school districts were receiving large funding differences because of this scheme. This paper will examine if there is truly a relationship between funding for a school and the school’s academic performance. Specifically, it will compare Houston school’s funding to its students average 8th grade STAAR test scores in reading, math, social studies, and science.
If the school’s funding does contribute to high test scores, then Texas must rework its funding scheme to better allocate money to schools so that their performance can increase. The current scheme allocates a base amount for each student in the school district. Then extra money is added to certain districts, taking into account factors such as gifted and talented students, students from low income families, and students who are learning English. The final funding comes from money raised from the tax district in which the school is located. The extra money that is added to schools with certain criteria uses a formula that has not been updated in almost thirty years. Critics claim that this needs to be increased so that all schools have a chance at succeeding, not just the rich ones. If it is true that the funding seems to cause higher test scores, the state must consider adding funding to lower performing schools to enhance student performance.
If school funding does not contribute to high test scores, then Texas must reformulate its financing scheme. The current belief is that the more money a school has, the better chance they have to succeed. If money doesn’t help, then it would just mean that the education system in place is broken in itself. Putting more money into this to fix it wouldn’t make a difference and would only waste money. They would have to look at policy alternatives that do not just deal with increasing funding. For example, a policy that could be implemented in place of adding more money to a school districts funding would be to mandate after school tutoring programs.
Because of pressure to create a better school system, the general trend of schools is that funding has increased over time. Based on my analysis, this hasn’t really influenced test scores. For Sheldon ISD, the funding for the school district steadily increased from 2011–2015, but the test scores for the district have not seen a dramatic change. It went from receiving $13,531,466 in 2011 to getting $16,850,064 in 2015. However, average STAAR test scores for Social Studies actually decreased from 3670 to 3495. The increase in funding did not lead to an increase in test scores as would be expected and scores actually decreased. Clear Creek ISD shows a similar trend. It had an increase in funding from $89,804,575 in 2011 to $92,295,385 in 2015. Their average STAAR Social Studies scores decreased from 3855 to 3784 between 2011 to 2015. This shows that the increase in funds did not produce higher test scores. Houston ISD faces the exact opposite problem where their funding has actually decreased over time, yet their test scores have also remained relatively stable. Their funding in 2011 was $322,074,378 and went down to $238,898,277 inn 2015, yet the average STAAR test score in Social Studies was 3575 in both 2011 and 2015. STAAR test scores are an appropriate measure to determine a student’s performance because it is the state’s way to measure student’s growth over the years and it is eventually used to determine which students go into accelerated academic programs.
Based on this data, there is preliminary evidence that shows an increase in funding may not have a major impact on test scores in the way that legislators hope. Changes in funding produced a variety of results for test scores. Since this data does not seem to show a correlation, there does not appear to be any causation. However, it is important to distinguish that this does not mean that an increase in funding does not determine a student’s success since success can be defined in many different ways. STAAR test scores are just one measure of a student’s success.
This means that there needs to be another solution to increase a student’s STAAR test scores. This could include monitoring the funding in a school district to ensure that it goes towards academics to raise the test scores, instead of potentially going to something irrelevant like renovating a football field. It also means that it’s possible that a student’s performance on the STAAR test is determined by something further than just the school, like family income for example.
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