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Editorial: Improving education is about far more than money
By James Golsan and Chuck DeVore
There is a narrative in the Texas education community that contends we are shortchanging public education spending, and because of that, our students’ testing performance is suffering.
But is education quality really chained to spending more money? Or might other factors come into play, such as competition, choice, and access to online learning?
The National Education Association (NEA), the national labor union affiliate of the Texas State Teachers Association, estimates that Texas spends $8,400 per pupil. But this does not account for the fact that, in 2011, the Legislature delayed $1.75 billion in education funding by one month, from August 2013 to September 2013 in the next fiscal year. Now they are likely to move that payment forward, since Texas’ strong economy has boosted tax revenue. Another $317 million in education spending is likely to be added before the close of the fiscal year. With a little more than $2 billion in new spending, Texas’ per-pupil spending would jump from $436 per student to $8,836.
The biggest expense in the K-12 education system is worker salaries. The NEA’s salary data shows that Texas teachers were paid an average of $48,110 vs. the U.S. average of $56,383. This is 85.3 percent of the national average. But when considering Texas’ low cost of living (92 percent of the U.S. average at the end of 2012), Texas teachers are paid the equivalent of 93 percent of the U.S. average.
Teachers in California, the nation’s largest state with the greatest number of students, are paid an average of $69,324, or almost 123 percent of the national average. This sounds great until one considers that the cost of living in California is 125.6 percent of the national average.
Because Texas’ cost of living is lower, its wages are lower, which allows Texas to hire more teachers. The NEA says Texas has 353,635 instructional staff and 4.7 million students. California has 289,327 instructional staff and 6.1 million students. This works out to a 13 to 1 student to staff ratio for Texas vs. California’s 21 to 1 ratio.
Education spending advocates have also pointed to Texas’ recent scores as symptomatic of an underfunded education system. The problem with this critique is that SAT scores are unsound measures of academic performance. Not every student takes the SAT; for instance, only 2 percent of students in North Dakota take the test. Texas ranks 19th nationally in the share of public high school seniors taking the test, for a total of 58 percent in 2012. Texas’ SAT participation rates have also been climbing rapidly in recent years, up 6 percent in the last year alone compared to a 2 percent increase in California.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a better measure of academic performance because it is a national standardized test that virtually all students take. Recent news accounts have noted that, among the five biggest states, Texas 4th- and 8th-graders do better than their big-state rivals while California ranks the worst. Further, when looking at the test results across racial and ethnic categories, Texas does even better.
Rather than simply pouring more money into the status quo, we should seek real reform. School choice, blended or online learning, expanded charters, and other innovations, “not more money,” are the real path to a brighter future for Texas children.
Chuck DeVore is the vice president for policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
James Golsan is the education policy analyst at the Center for Education Policy at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
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