The Consequences of Underfunding Our Public Schools

by Chandra Villanueva

[Originally published on the UTeach Blog, October 5, 2017.]

Making sure our children receive a quality education is essential for the future prosperity of Texas. To be successful academically, many students rely on additional supports and programs such as tutoring or bilingual education. Unfortunately, a new analysis from the Center for Public Policy Priorities and the UTeach Institute at the University of Texas at Austin found that when the state cuts funding to public education, it is students from low-income households and those in need of additional support who lose the most.

In response to the economic recession, in 2011 lawmakers cut $5.3 billion from the two-year public education budget, about $500 per student each year. This forced school districts to make some really tough choices on how to serve a growing student population with fewer resources. Funding is beginning to recover, but the “hole” that these cuts created in school spending is about five years long and five billion dollars deep.

In 2015, lawmakers invested the same amount of funding in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars in our schools as it had before the cuts. They didn’t, however, adjust this funding in terms of student growth, and as a result our state has still not returned to the pre-recession levels of public school funding that we had before 2008. Money in education matters. Well-funded schools are better able to attract and retain high-quality teachers, provide individualized attention through small class sizes, and provide an engaging curriculum that includes arts and music — all things that promote higher academic achievement. Yet elementary schools with the greatest percentage of low-income students are spending 40 percent less per student on bilingual education in 2016 than in 2008, and 21 percent less on the programs and services that keep students on track.

As my co-author, Dr. Michael Marder, said, “While it is great to see that funding levels for public schools are recovering, some support for students who need help the most has not come back, and restoring funding now does not make up for five years in which students may have learned less than they could.”

Support for this research was provided by the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium.

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Read the full report here, and follow Chandra Villanueva and Michael Marder on Twitter for more updates on Texas public education.